Oral Narrative Interventions: Impact, Efficacy & Implications

Narrative skills play a crucial role in social and academic development, yet prove challenging for students with language disorders.

Key Takeaway: Narrative skills play a crucial role in social and academic development, yet prove challenging for students with language disorders. Practitioners can optimize the chances of successful oral narrative intervention through the use of (1) icon cards to represent macrostructure narrative elements and/or pictures to support the telling of the target narrative, (2) repeated student retellings of the entire target narrative, and (3) teacher modeling of narratives. —Ashley Parnell

According to authors Pauls and Archibald,1 “The ability to tell a story is particularly important for school-age students,” and narrative ability has been broadly linked to improved social and academic outcomes. Narrative skills are critical to developing and maintaining friendships and are predictive of later academic skills, including reading comprehension, writing, and vocabulary. 

Children with language disorders and language problems associated with Down syndrome, intellectual disabilities, fragile X, Williams syndrome, and autism spectrum disorder (ASD) display difficulties with many aspects of narration, requiring targeted instruction and intervention to develop these skills. Oral narrative interventions target macrostructural (i.e., story structure & organization) and microstructural aspects of narrative discourse (i.e., linguistic devices at the sentence level) through the telling and retelling of stories.

In a recent systematic review of the literature, Favot et al. examined the efficacy, quality, and common features of oral narrative intervention on the narratives of children with language disorders. Favot et al. reviewed 24 research articles published between 1993 and 2018, involving three hundred twenty-six participants between 5 years 1 month and 16 years 2 months with varying degrees of language disorder.  

Overall, findings of the review suggest that “oral narrative intervention is likely to be effective” across individuals with varying ages, degrees of language disorder, and co-occurring disabilities. Despite generally good quality and results of the single case studies, confident conclusions could not be drawn regarding efficacy due to the low quality and variable results reported by group research studies. Suggestions for future research included: 1) conducting more robust, group research designs, 2) investigating the effect of intervention on students with more significant disabilities and the inclusion of generalization measures, and 3) evaluating the effect of intervention on personal narrative skills.

Based upon their review, the research team identified common features of effective oral language interventions. Practitioners should consider incorporating the following features in order to optimize the chances of successful intervention: 

  • Macrostructure frameworks or rubrics which identify and sequencing core elements (i.e., setting including characters, initiating event/problem, attempts to solve, resolution) 
  • Icon cards to represent macrostructure elements and/or pictures to support the telling of the target narrative 
  • Repeated retelling of the entire target narrative as opposed to partial retellings
  • Clinician modelling of target narratives

Summarized Article:

Favot, K., Carter, M., & Stephenson, J. (2020). The effects of oral narrative intervention on the narratives of children with language disorders a systematic literature review. Journal of Developmental and Physical Disabilities. 33, 489-536.

Summary by: Ashley M. Parnell — Ashley strives to apply the MARIO Framework to build evidence-based learning environments that support student engagement, empowerment, and passion and is working with a team of educators to grow and share this framework with other educators.

Additional References:

Pauls, L.J. & Archilbald, L. (2021). Cognitive and linguistic effects of narrative-based language intervention in children with Developmental Language Disorder. Autism and Developmental Language Impairments, 6. https://doi.org/10.1177/23969415211015867

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We are a dedicated group of learners that are constantly seeking to improve the lives of the children we care for. Whether you are a teacher, parent, assistant, or administrator, we give you free access to the most recent special education related research and practices available. Our twice monthly MARIO Memo summarizes and shares studies from peer-reviewed journals, while our learning letters provide insights from MARIO classrooms.

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