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Topic 3: Building Success in Writing: Story Construction

In this week of our journey, we will continue to develop each student's emerging writing skills. It is important to look at background experiences that support writing. Last week we considered the connection between art and writing. The ability to retell stories can also have a tremendous impact on a student's written communication. As Hedberg and Westby state, "Narratives serve as a bridge to literacy. Narratives are the first extended type of discourse students engage in..." (1993, p.9).

Narratives

Narratives such as story retelling pose significant problems for the augmentative communicator and are further complicated when he or she is asked to produce the narrative in written form. Narrative or story telling is rarely addressed in therapy or educational objectives of augmentative communicators; however, it is often a major part of early childhood curricula. Likewise, written communication is a major part of school age curricula. Hedberg and Westby describe several different types of narratives that play a role in many classroom activities, based on the work of Heath (1986b) and Hicks (1991). These narrative types (e.g., scripts, recounts, fictional stories) are discussed extensively in Hedberg and Westby (1993). In Emergent Literacy Success (pp. 145-147), we offer strategies for socially scaffolding each type of narrative for the augmentative communicator.

Story Retelling

Story retelling offers a powerful opportunity for building towards emergent writing skills. For students who use augmentative communication, retelling a story can be accomplished through a variety of options, such as:

The key to story retelling is that the student does not simply press a switch or a message cell to read an entire page, but actually combines words, symbols, or short phrases to retell the story in his or her own words.

Getting Started Writing

Writing clearly involves more than simply retelling a story written by someone else. Initially, children need to understand that they can take risks, problem solve, and create written documents. Story construction activities are not only ideal for increasing risk-taking and problem solving, but they provide children with opportunities to learn concepts such as beginning/end and sequencing. In addition, they allow children the opportunity to manipulate and play with newly-learned vocabulary. Two approaches are described below.

Slot Fillers and Story Starters

Slot-filler and story starter activities can be used with students as a structure to help create new stories or creatively retell an existing story. Sentence starters such as, "I like. . .", "Put in. . .", or "Going on a___ hunt. . ." can be used. Initially, refrains should be taken from familiar stories, using the strategy of "old forms, new functions." Samples are, "Not I, said _____" (from The Little Red Hen), or "Is he inside the _____?" (from Where's Spot? by Eric Hill). This type of activity gives children a jump-start with open opportunities for their own creative input. When children are learning how to participate in slot-filler activities, limiting the choices to three or four items can encourage participation and increase success.

All-In-One Story Construction

For this approach, one student has all of the sentence parts from a familiar story, plus additional characters, actions, and locations. Components can be added or deleted to yield an original story. Using device features such as <speak> and <clear> can further enhance stories, and offer a meaningful format for practicing those skills.

So, how do I actually begin to use these emergent writing activities?

The following case example offers a few ideas for how to support students in producing narratives, story retelling, and story construction. These resources may also be of help:


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This material was developed by the National Center to Improve Practice (NCIP), located at Education Development Center, Inc. in Newton, Massachusetts.  NCIP was funded by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs from October 1, 1992 - September 30, 1998, Grant #H180N20013.  Permission is granted to copy and disseminate this information.  If you do so, please cite NCIP.   Contents do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Department of Education, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by NCIP, EDC, or the U.S. Government.  This site was last updated in September 1998.

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