Narrative skills

Narrative is the ability to tell a story or series of events with precision and clarity. Pupils with speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) often struggle with oral or written narrative. Pupils use narrative skills in many different situations in school:

  • Talking about what happened at school
  • Talking about what happened at the weekend
  • Telling a teacher about a playground incident
  • Retelling a story eg the plot from a book, film or TV programme
  • Understanding and using question words ‘Who? Where? What? When?’
  • Using the language associated with time, such as: ‘first, next, and last?
  • Joining in a conversation in the playground with friends
  • Discussing a topic in the classroom
  • Talking about what happened in a science experiment
  • Understanding and telling jokes
  • Making plans or predictions about future events
  • Being able to apply narrative skills to written work

How Specialist Teachers (SLCN) support schools to develop their pupils’ narrative skills:

  • Help schools to assess and identify pupils with poor narrative skills through informal assessment and by providing information about formal published assessments.
  • Support school staff to understand that in order to access the curriculum and to engage in their learning, pupils will need good oral narrative skills. Unless children can produce an oral narrative they will not be able to produce a written narrative.
  • Explain to staff about the progression and the development of narrative skills and how we can differentiate the curriculum in order to support pupils with poor narrative skills.
  • Provide information about resources that will support narrative development such as: first and then boards; visual timetables; sequencing cards; resources which teach time concepts such as ‘before/after, first/next/last’; the ‘Black Sheep Press’ narrative skills resources and Victoria Joffee’s ‘Narrative Intervention Programme’.
  • Direct modelling and demonstration of narrative skills resources with pupils, Learning Support Assistants and class teachers .

  • Demonstrate the use of colour coded visual cue cards such as ‘Who? Where? When? What?’ and how these can be used to differentiate a writing task, structure a recount or a retelling of a story, modify a writing frame and use as a prompt to ask structured comprehension questions about a text.
  • Provide information about visuals that can be used in the playground in order for pupils to explain a playground problem/incident using a structured narrative framework. Play-leaders and Midday supervisors can be trained to resolve conflict using the narrative approach in order to reduce the frustration for pupils with SLCN when they can’t explain what is wrong
  • Provide a training workshop about Narrative Development in the school setting, focussing on: Why narrative skills are important’ The progression of narrative skills; Assessment and resources/interventions to support narrative development.


  • Liaise and provide ideas for a school that wishes to have a workshop for parents focussing on simple strategies to help their children’s narrative development at home.