Children's Narrative and Story Grammar

Children's narrative: Narrative is a spoken or written message that follows the rules of story grammar, which recounts a chain of events in a story.

Stories have a dependable structure that is highly reliable and consistent.

That structure is known as story grammar.

The story grammar rule generally centres on a main character who overcomes a problem, or series of problems and learns a valuable lesson from the events of the story.

Children, with typical language development, enter school with narrative skills that are developed and honed at home and in their community.

Children at the age of 4-5 years are usually adept at narrating personal recounts.

That is, telling a listener about their own experiences.

When children create stories - the invention of stories, not centred on their life experiences - this requires a more sophisticated grasp of language.

Young school-age students are expected to be familiar with this particular genre as they begin their school life. Their oral stories have a good awareness of time and place and character motivation is clear.

In contrast with typically developing children, children with language difficulty create stories that have a poor sense of time and place and have undeveloped character motivation.

The stories lack detail and are generally very short. Grammatical structure tends to be poor and a general lack of semantic word and world knowledge leads to children creating written stories tht contain limited information.

Story Grammar

What follows is the story grammar structure using an example from an original story: 'Guff the Neanderthal Boy.'

Guff is a young Neanderthal boy on his first hunt,in prehistoric times in Europe, 150 000 years ago. Guff's tribe is hunting wooly mammoths for food.

The hunt goes terribly wrong and in the resulting panic Guff becomes separated from his tribe. He is alone and lost.

That night Guff sleeps in a ditch to hide from predators. The next morning he follows a river that he hopes will lead to his tribe's camping ground.

After a long morning of travel Guff becomes hungry and later spears a fish in the river.

Guff makes a campfire, then cooks and eats the fish. The smell of the cooked fish attracts two sabre-tooth tigers, eager to make a meal of Guff.

Guff is too quick for the tigers and rapidly climbs a nearby tree. The tigers try in vain but are unable to climb the tree.

The sabre-tooth tigers are frightened off by members of Guff's tribe who have seen the smoke from Guff's campfire and have come to investigate.

Guff is safe.

Story Grammar Structure

Title: Guff the Neanderthal Boy

Setting (Where and when): 150 000 years ago in prehistoric Europe.

Initiating event: Ged is on his first hunt, hunting wooly mammoths.

Problem: The hunt goes terribly wrong and Guff becomes separated from his tribe.

Plan or attempts: Guff follows a river that may lead him home. He catches a fish and cooks it.

Consequence: The smell of the cooked fish attracts two sabre-tooth tigers. Guff climbs a tree to escape.

Resolution: Members of Guff's tribe arrive to save him from the tigers. Guff is safe.

Moral: Guff's resourcefulness and courage save him in a dangerous environment.


DeKemel, K.P. (2003) Intervention in Language Arts: A Practical Guide for Speech-Language Pathologists. Butterworth-Heinemann.

Kaderavek, J.N. (2011) Language Disorders in Children: Fundamental Concepts of Assessment and Intervention, Allyn & Bacon

Owens, R.E. (1996) Language Development: An Introduction, Allyn & Bacon

Paul, R. (2001) Language Disoders form Infancy through Adolescence. Assessment and Intervention. Mosby

Content Updated 8/11

Return from children's narrative to What is Language

Enjoy this page? Please pay it forward. Here's how...

Would you prefer to share this page with others by linking to it?

  1. Click on the HTML link code below.
  2. Copy and paste it, adding a note of your own, into your blog, a Web page, forums, a blog comment, your Facebook account, or anywhere that someone would find this page valuable.