Tech Tuesday/Summer Study Series: Combining Narratives with Play Yield - MindWing Concepts, Inc.

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Tech Tuesday/Summer Study Series: Combining Narratives with Play Yields Social Competencies!

by Sean Sweeney June 27, 2023 3 min read

By Sean Sweeney MS, MEd, CCC-SLP

June has at this point busted out all over! I know I am wrapping up my school year work while many of you may have been lounging for a few weeks, I hope. For this month’s entry in our Summer Study Series Social Communication Course imagewe are diving into the strong connection between narrative language and social learning. But speaking of Summer Studies related to narrative and social development, don’t miss MindWing’s Summer Course: Social Communication with SGM®: Social Emotional Learning, Language Processing, & Pragmatics—July 25 & 26, 2023!

Braidy DollWhile from a few years back, this month’s article presents terrific and easy to implement ideas for the PK-primary school level. Let’s delve into “Using a narrative- and play-based activity to promote low-income preschoolers’ oral language, emergent literacy, and social competence” from the Early Childhood Research Quarterly (Nicolopoulou, Cortina Ilgaz, Brockmeyer Cates & de Sá, 2015). For this one, you may want to ask your local library or graduate students, or those with college connections for full access.

In this research and procedure review and study, the authors show that a storytelling and story-acting practice (STSA) promoted narrative and other oral language skills, emergent literacy, and social competence.

  • The authors first emphasize key areas that on a preschool level are key to developing “school readiness”: literacy including narrative skills and social competencies, particularly self-regulation and cooperative play, linking to cooperation in general. They also highlight the important balance of direct instruction with more constructivist, play-based approaches during these early school years.
  • The procedure of STSA is one that any of us can implement, and is based on Paley’s work in The Boy Who Would Be a Helicopter (hear more on this via this entertaining This American Life segment). It goes like this:
    • Have children dictate imaginary stories to an adult in the classroom.
    • At a later time, during a classroom meeting, have them act out their created stories with the employment of peers. Sounds exquisitely simple, doesn’t it?
  • As the authors state, this activity, done regularly, is one in which “children control their own storytelling. It provides them with the opportunity to work over, refine, and elaborate their narratives, and to use them for their own diverse purposes—cognitive, symbolic, expressive, and social-relational.” The authors cite the connection to familiarizing students with the writing process, and also the role of “cross-fertilization,” or using nuggets of each other’s stories, and stories from books, TV, movies and even video games.
  • Paley’s work is highlighted as having connections to Vygotsky’s theories of play as developing both imagination and schema, or knowledge of the rules inherent to play-based situations and storytelling. For example, if playing the role of firefighter, a child should seek to mime the tools of that situation such as a hose or ax, rather than, say, superpowers.
  • Before I go further, though not explicitly mentioned here, we can’t miss the opportunity for scaffolding with a narrative development tool at various stages of the process of STSA. Specifically, Braidy the StoryBraid® would be an essential enhancement to the process, both for identifying and suggesting story elements to the student play-authors and in highlighting the same elements, and the connections between them, to the entire class as the story is acted out!
  • The study itself provides some great resources for baselining and post-treatment, potentially useful in assessments, such as Overton and Jackson’s simple evaluation protocol for imaginative gestures and Kashiwagi’s self-regulation checklist. The data is yours to crunch, but the conclusions of the study were convincing in terms of suggesting this process as an evidence-based practice: “participation in the STSA was significantly associated with improvements in the following measures: in oral language skills, narrative comprehension (results positive in both years and significant in year 2); in emergent literacy, print and word awareness; in social competence, greater self-inhibition and reduced play disruption (play disruption was reduced in both years, and the association was significant in year 1); and pretend abilities.”

For a few tech tips:

  • Consider the incorporation of Kiddie, the kid-friendly search engine. Particularly for images of settings, presentation of a few visual supports could enhance students’ imaginations related to their formulated stories and lead to the incorporation of other story elements.

Image 1

  • iPad apps such as those from Sago Mini, Toca Boca, and My Playhome can also serve as precursors to storytelling or real-world pretend play for these young populations.

Image from Sago World
Airport within Sago Mini World

Have a wonderful conclusion to your June, and upcoming July 4th holiday!

Sean Sweeney
Sean Sweeney

Sean Sweeney, MS, MEd, CCC-SLP, is a speech-language pathologist and technology specialist working in private practice at the Ely Center in Needham, MA, and as a clinical supervisor at Boston University. He consults to local and national organizations on technology integration in speech and language interventions. His blog, SpeechTechie (, looks at technology “through a language lens.” Contact him at

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