The Hidden Meaning of Story Grammar Marker’s Icons - MindWing Concepts, Inc.

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The Hidden Meaning of Story Grammar Marker’s Icons

by Sheila Moreau May 11, 2017 7 min read

Last week, Maryellen Moreau, creator of Story Grammar Marker®, consulted with two special educators in southern Connecticut about a student with Autism. This particular child’s evaluation recommended Story Grammar Marker® as an intervention. The school hired Maryellen to work with this child’s teachers as well as larger groups of staff in the school to get everyone on board with the SGM® methodology.

During our first session last week, one special educator looked up at Maryellen and with awe in her voice said, “This is just so amazing. It is so simple…yet so, so deep. I know I will be able to do so much with this – with so many different students. How did you EVER think of this?”

Maryellen Photo 1980sThe answer to that question is that it happened in the late 1980s while Maryellen, a speech language pathologist, was Curriculum Director at the Curtis Blake Day School in Springfield, MA (a private placement for children with dyslexia and language learning disabilities). Normal Story Organizer One day, while she was co-teaching a writing lesson with third grade children, an eight-year-old boy approached Maryellen with his conventional “beginning, middle and end” story graphic organizer. He looked up at her with tears in his eyes about writing his story and said, “I don’t know what to put in my boxes—I never know what to do with my boxes!” Maryellen felt empathetic and wanted to help him tell his story, as well as to empower other students who she had seen struggle over the years with both oral and written expression.

MindWing's Kick-Off ShoeThis was the “Kick-Off” for Maryellen – the consequence of which was that she ultimately invented the Story Grammar Marker®. Her research at the time was focused on the discourse level of language – conversation, narration (stories) and exposition (information text).

Concentrating first on narrative development, she was hopeful that she could help this 8-year-old student and she planned to combine her research and experience to do so. Reading Carol Westby’s research and being inspired by this young student bolstered Maryellen’s resolve to help children to communicate stories, since they are essential to school and in life. Maryellen’s favorite Westby quote states:

“We dream, remember, anticipate, hope, despair, love, hate, believe, doubt, plan, construct, gossip and learn in narrative” (Westby, 1991).

The other areas of Maryellen’s research revolved around “story grammar” (narrative structure):

  • What was story grammar?
  • Why was it important?
  • How could it be analyzed developmentally?
  • What language features glue a narrative together?

Several researchers had covered answers to these questions. Stein and Glenn (1979) defined “story grammar” as the setting and the episode of a story. Merritt & Lyles (1987) reported that students’ knowledge of this narrative structure, “story grammar,” allows him or her to predict the overall flow of stories which assists in comprehension and provides a structure for writing. Applebee (1978) fleshed out the stages of narrative development and subsequently other researchers added to this body of research. Peterson & McCabe (1983) coined the term “story sparkle” which includes elaborated noun phrases, linguistic verbs, mental state verbs, adverbs and conjunctions; all of which are the literate language features that make up the story.

Child with AbacusApart from her research on narrative structure, Maryellen also noticed that her students were very successful when using manipulatives in mathematics to learn concepts. Research during the late ’80s and early ’90s reflected this observation. Being able to see, touch, and move the manipulatives helped children to learn. The little boy with tears in his eyes about his story was particularly successful with math manipulatives. But then Maryellen thought, how do I make a manipulative for telling a story?

Her brilliant idea was to create a tool with icons or symbols to represent the each parts of the story in an episode. The icons/symbols would be physical, visual representations of the episode of a narrative. Maryellen did some research and discovered that icons and symbols are both considered signs. Icons signal people in a physical way conveying a meaning through visual appearance, sound, shape, or texture. A symbol signals a psychological association with the thing that it represents, which is how meaning is conveyed.

Various Logos 1At the time, the icons and symbols that could be seen every day were logos of stores and companies and brands. In the 1980s and early 1990s, these were some recognizable logos (right). Just glancing at one of these icons/symbols could bring a world of meaning into your head. For example, the Golden Arches of McDonald’s meant fast food, Big Macs, Chicken McNuggets, bathroom stop, meeting place, inexpensive meal, family time – and all of the memories that go along with it. Seeing the MTV logo would bring to mind favorite songs and video programming and time with siblings and friends, etc. The NIKE swoosh conjured up ideas of athletics, sports and exercise. Traffic signs signaled rules of the road for safe driving. Each icon/symbol brought deep meaning to people who encountered them.

MindWing Dancing IconsMaryellen decided to design icons/symbols to represent story grammar elements (parts of a narrative episode) from the research: Character, Setting, Initiating Event (Kick-Off), Internal Response (Feeling), Plan, Planned Attempts (Actions), Direct Consequence (Tie-Up) and Resolution. Then, she gathered supplies from her craft and sewing bins in her basement. She fashioned a braid out of six strands of yarn to make a shank on which to hang the icons/symbols. Each of the six strands of yarn represented one of the Six Strands of Oral Language, because all of the strands of language can be worked on through narratives.

How can all of these foundations of language be worked on through narrative development (stories)?

  1. Pragmatics and social skills: body language, tone of voice, topic maintenance, clarification and turn taking.
  2. Phonology: spelling, articulation, and phonemic awareness.
  3. Semantics: schemas and scripts, vocabulary, and multiple meanings.
  4. Syntax: cohesive ties, sentence development and verb tenses.
  5. Metalinguistics: perspective-taking, self-monitoring and figurative language.
  6. And of course Discourse: the strand upon which the entire methodology is built: conversation, narratives and expository text.

Our manuals describe how to incorporate all of these language areas into lessons.

Six Strands of Language GraphicSince Maryellen had yarn in her craft bins, he used it to make the SGM®. Coincidently, YARN is a synonym for STORY. YARN is defined as: a long, often elaborate narrative of real or fictitious adventures; an entertaining tale. To tell an entertaining tale or series of tales ( It made sense to produce it out of yarn. The thoughtful rationale behind the icons that Maryellen fabricated is described below. Each icon/symbol has a specific meaning that makes it easy for kids to remember and internalize.
 MindWing's Icon Meanings

Story Grammar Marker Pictorial HistoryThe original tool looked like the first image at left. The next image shows the patent application drawing for the SGM and was described as “three-dimensional teaching aid for use in developing story telling skills.” It was then, and is still produced in Wilbraham, MA by a fellow woman entrepreneur. The last image is the Story Grammar Marker® presently. Maryellen called it the “Story Grammar Marker” because the icons/symbols are a way to “mark” or track the “story grammar” or parts of the story as a child is reading, retelling or writing a story.

SGM Manual CoverIn 1991 with colleagues Carolyn West, Ph.D., and Holly Fidrych, M.S., CCC-SLP, Maryellen field-tested the tool at the Curtis Blake Day School and other local public schools. Moreau and Fidrych authored the How To Use The Story Grammar Marker®, A Guide for Improving Speaking, Reading and Writing Skills Within Your Existing Program to help educators and specialists to learn to use the Story Grammar Marker® tool.

After receiving the patent on the Story Grammar Marker®, Maryellen founded MindWing Concepts, Inc., three years later to share this methodology with educators and children. The Story Grammar Marker® Manual delineated the Stages of Narrative Development as published by Applebee (1978) along with elements from Stein and Glenn (1979) and Merritt and Lyles (1987) as well as Peterson and McCabe (1983). Maryellen incorporated the icons/symbols into the stages (story macrostructure) along with the some of the corresponding literate language features (story microstructure), see below.

Stages of Narrative Development

MindWing’s manuals explain how to use these developmental stages to analyze children’s literature as well as how to monitor progress of student’s oral and written stories. Involving the Stages of Narrative Development, the SGM® is not simply for recalling the parts of a story. It is the sequence of story development including vocabulary, inference, and cohesion that all impact comprehension, writing, critical thinking, problem solving and social interaction.

SGM® is much broader than a re-telling. Use of this tool can be applied to perspective-taking, theory of mind, research paper writing, conflict resolution, expository text, argument writing, conversation repair, and more!

Revolving around Story Grammar Marker®, look at all of the tools that have been born of this methodology for so many different learning challenges and skill areas!

MindWing's Circle of Products

Over the past couple of decades, everyday use of “icons” started with Apple and the early Windows computers on which we could click “icons” to reach particular programs and applications. Now, in 2017, icons/symbols are truly a part of our everyday life. They are not only seen on computers, signage or brands. The access that icons/symbols give us today make it easier to shop, watch movies, exercise, socialize, navigate directions, explore real estate, calculate anything, take photos, wake us up in the morning, keep track of our schedule, get a ride, and do our banking, as well as facilitating so many other tasks and interests (see below).

Carious Logos 2

Maryellen is a pioneer in this area. She incorporated icons/symbols with a kinesthetic, developmental tool to help struggling learners gain access to content and skills that will make their learning easier. At the same time, she provided educators with tools and guides to help them teach and provide intervention for their students.

Over the years, students -- as well as parents and colleagues -- really enjoy hearing the story of the origin of SGM®. They particularly like to hear about how much thought, research, experience and creativity went into the design of the icons/symbols. Please share this with your students, colleagues and parents!


Applebee, A.N. (1978). The child’s concept of a story. Chicago: Chicago University Press.

Merritt, D.D., & Liles, B.Z. (1987). Story grammar ability in children with and without language disorder: Story generation, story retelling, and story comprehension. Journal of Speech and Hearing Research, 30, 539-552.

Moreau, M. & Fidrych, H. (2008). The story grammar marker® teachers’ manual. Springfield, MA: MindWing Concepts, Inc.

Peterson, C., & McCabe, A. (1983). Developmental psycholinguistics: Three ways of looking at a child's narrative. New York: Plenum Press.

Stein, N.L. & Glenn, C. (1979). An analysis of story comprehension in elementary school children. In R.O. Freedke (Ed.), New directions in discourse processing (pp53-120). Norwood, NJ: Ablex.

Westby, C. (1991). Learning to talk-talking to learn: Oral literate language differences. In C. S. Simon (Ed.), Communication skills and classroom success: Assessment and therapy methodologies for language- and learning-disabled students (pp. 181-218). Eau Claire, WI: Thinking Publications.

Sheila Moreau
Sheila Moreau

Sheila M. Moreau, M.Ed. is vice president at MindWing Concepts. Her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology is from St. Anselm College and Master’s of Education degree from Cambridge College. Sheila has twenty years of experience in marketing and sales in the telecommunications, commercial real estate, fundraising and educational publishing industries. Sheila co-authored The Essential SGM® with Maryellen Moreau, drawing upon her experience in her graduate studies. Sheila was on the Early Literacy Advisory Board of Cherish Every Child (Irene E. and George A. Davis Foundation),; she sits on the Board of Directors for the International VolleyBall Hall of Fame and serves as Co-Chair of Marketing and Sponsorship for the St. Patrick’s Committee of Holyoke, Inc.

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