Building Blocks
“Discourse is the highest level of language development and provides the explicit connection to literacy. Without discourse, there is no efficient connection between oral language development and literacy. When students must have a “Wh” question (who, what, when, where, why) asked to elicit responses, they are not functioning at the Discourse level. All discourse types first appear in oral language and are transferred by authors to written text. Conversation is represented by dialogue, narrative by story form and exposition by charts, graphs and informational paragraphs as found in science and social studies texts...

Discourse in all its forms—conversation, narration, exposition—is vital to the connection between oral language development and literacy. Unless students can comprehend and independently express what they have comprehended orally and in writing, are at risk academically and socially. Moreau and Fidrych (2008), How to Use the Story Grammar Marker, p. 15.

In order to develop literate language, there must be a focus on the discourse level of language. Westby (1985) describes the discourse level of language as being along an “Oral-Literate Continuum” comprised of conversation, narration, exposition; from the “here and now” to the “there and then” (Paul, R. & Norbury, C., 2012).

Oral-Literate Continuum

— Carol Westby (1985) —

“Westby (1991, 1994) saw this developmental period as a time when children learn strategies for understanding and using abstract language in situations that contain less contextual support” (Benson, 2009, p. 175) When children move from the oral to the literate, they “acquire language skills that allow them to evidence variability and flexibility in their use of formal and informal registers and genre types such as narratives, reports, poetry, and jokes” in both oral and written expression (Benson, 2009, p. 175).

In typically developing children, “the ability to construct and engage in meaningful discourse” (Boudreau, 2008, p. 99) is a stage of language development that occurs before the child even enters kindergarten. Hughes, McGillivrav, & Schmidek (1997) define narrative discourse as “at least two utterances produced in temporal order about and even or experience” (as cited in Boudreau, 2008, p. 99). They also suggest that narratives are a form of discourse “particularly important for academic and social success” (p.99) and that narratives provide a way for children to “think and remember information” (p.99).

Westby (2003), explains the link between comprehension and the discourse level of language that ultimately impacts what has become known as the “fourth grade slump” (Chall & Jacobs, 2003, p. 2), which is a significant decline in reading abilities at the fourth grade, hence the term. Chall (1996) found that vocabulary was the first area to be compromised in grade 4, followed by an increasing inability to use context for comprehension purposes because of vocabulary and complex language structures as well as the advancing sentence structures and the density of text to be read by grade 7 and beyond. Comprehension involves building a mental representation of a text. This construction of mental representations requires that lexical processes, syntactic processes, and inference processes all interact with nonlinguistic world knowledge. To build mental models, students must understand vocabulary, sentence structures, and the cohesive elements that link the ideas in the sentences (pronouns and connective words such as but, because, so, when, etc.). In addition, they must also recognize the global structure of discourse (p. 11).

The Story Grammar Marker® is a tool used for the narrative component of discourse. Gillam & Pearson (2004) define narratives as “stories about real or imagined events that are constructed by weaving together sentences about situational contexts, characters, actions, motivations, emotions, and outcomes” (as cited in Petersen, Gillam & Gillam, 2008 p.115). McCabe and Bliss (2003) state that “narration is an important vehicle for academic, social, linguistic and cultural learning. Children use narratives to relate events, establish and maintain friendships, and express their thoughts and feelings about important topics” (as cited in Petersen, Gillam & Gillam, 2008, p. 115). “A body of literature supports the importance of narrative abilities to academic and social success for both typically developing children and children with language and learning disabilities…Narrative abilities have also been shown to predict difficulties in academic achievement” (Boudreau, 2008, p. 100).

According to Moreau (2010), a narrative is a story. It involves the telling or re-telling of events and experiences orally and in writing. A story can be true or fictitious and takes into account one or more points of view. To help people understand how important “narrative text” really is, speech language pathologist and researcher Carol Westby once stated: “We dream, remember, anticipate, hope, despair, love, hate, believe, doubt, plan, construct, gossip and learn in narrative” (Westby, 1991, p. 352). Westby further explained in later research, “Narratives offer opportunities to support language use, emotional expression and social cognition in an integrated social and academic context” (Westby, 2007). Thus, developing narrative abilities is important for success in school and in life.

Narrative structure, also known as story grammar, has been defined by Stein and Glenn (1979) as consisting of two major components: the setting and the episode. Stein and Glenn refer to the setting as the character and the context of the story. The episode is divided into six different subcategories: initiating events, internal responses, plans, actions, consequences, and resolutions. As Merritt & Lyles (1987) report, the student’s 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. There are stages of narrative development that are fleshed out by Applebee (1978), and subsequently many other researchers, that added to this body of research. (Merritt and Lyles, 1987, p. 539).

According to narrative researchers, Paul and Norbury (2012), there are four aspects of narratives that distinguish their sophistication. First, narrative macrostructure, which is the overall organization of the narrative marked by the number of story grammar elements included in the narrative. The second aspect is cohesion, in the form of cohesive ties that connect sentences to give them meaning as opposed to unrelated phrases. Moreau and Fidrych (2008) discuss the role of cohesive ties as “gluing sentences together” (p. 39). Cohesive ties are can be “search” words, using pronouns as references or substitutions, ellipsis and lexical ties. Or, they can be connective; conjunctions that are additive, temporal, causal or adversative (Moreau & Fidrych, 2008, p.40). The third aspect is narrative microstructure which includes vocabulary and sentence structure. This final aspect is referred to by Paul & Norbury as “artful storytelling,” but better known as “story sparkle,” (p. 447) a term coined by Peterson & McCabe (1983). Story sparkle includes elaborated noun phrases, linguistic verbs, mental state verbs and adverbs; all of which are the literate language features, as defined by Greenhalgh & Strong (2001), that make up the story.

The “story sparkle,” or literate language features, are listed and described by Benson (2009):

Johnston (2008) cites six reasons that narrative abilities should be included among intervention goals; narratives help...

“Narrative intervention helps with story-telling, listening and reading comprehension, identifying strengths and weaknesses in language, and with social relationships,” according to Johnston (2008, p. 1). “The largest body of work in the area of narrative intervention has focused on explicit teaching of the story grammar structure, with evidence of improved narrative performance in both preschool-aged and school-aged children with and without language and learning difficulties” (Boudreau, 2008, p. 110). Boudreau described several studies in which visual representations of the components of a story along with story mapping were intervention techniques that yielded much success. “Children’s narrative abilities have been measured by tasks requiring recalling details from stories, retelling stories, and generating stories. Performance on all three of these tasks has been prospectively linked to reading ability” (Benson, 2009, p. 176).

In 2010, Moreau and colleague Linda Lafontaine, M.A., CCC-SLP, performed a study at a the school for dyslexic and language learning disabled children on The Effects of Story Grammar Marker® on Listening Comprehension and Oral Expression (below) and the study yielded statistically significant results which were presented at the American Speech Language Hearing Convention in 2010.

ASHA Poster

Click on the image above to download/print PDF.

This study was done to examine if there was a significant increase in the listening comprehension and oral expression abilities of students diagnosed with a Specific Learning Disability (SLD) in reading and/or language who received Story Grammar Marker® intervention. Research suggests that children with a SLD in reading have difficulties with reading comprehension resulting from broad based language problems, and not limited to difficulties with word recognition (Gersten & Baker, 1999; Cain and Oakhill, 2007). It was long thought that once children acquired the basic ability to read words, they would automatically and without specific instruction, be able to understand whatever they could decode. However, research has shown that there are sources of comprehension difficulties that are independent of inadequate basic decoding and fluency skills (Gough, 1984; Gough and Tunmer, 1986). Gough’s Simple View of Reading, where reading is the product of decoding and language comprehension skills, is basic to this research study (Gough, 1984; Catts et al, 2003; Roberts, J. & Scott, K. 2006; Oakhill, Cain and Yuill, 1998). Researchers recognize the need for a specific instructional focus on comprehension (Block et al, 2002; Williams, 2005; Cain and Oakhill, 2007).

Moreau and Lafontaine (2010) focused on narrative or story comprehension as part of the discourse level of language development. Although most children are able to develop an understanding of narrative structure, students with SLD have less well-developed story schemata that may interfere with their ability to interact effectively with the text and make the necessary connections in order to comprehend (Gardill & Jitendra, 1999; Justice, 2004).

In addition, many students have been found to have difficulty with oral language expression and organization. These “at-risk” children often have trouble identifying, recalling and integrating important information presented orally (Moreau and Fidrych, 2007; Gersten & Baker, 1999; Cain and Oakhill, 2007; Catts and Kahmi, 2005). Their inability to internalize and access story grammar organization for comprehending and retelling narratives contributes to their difficulty communicating character’s problems, internal responses, mental states, plans, and attempted solutions to problems (Dimino et al. 1990; Gardill & Jitendra, 1999). Children of all ages use their knowledge of this narrative macrostructure to help them organize and remember important details. In addition, this knowledge serves as a transition to the expository text structures seen in social studies and science textbooks (Moreau & Fidrych, 2007; Westby, 1991). The explicit teaching of story grammar structure and the use of questions related to elements of the story serve as a framework to highlight connections which in turn leads to retention of story elements, improved verbal organization for retelling, and a deeper understanding of the story (Gardill & Jitendra, 1999; Gersten & Baker, 1999; Pressley, 1998).

Current research suggests that instruction employing multi-sensory tools promotes better learning outcomes, in general (Gardner, 1991). One such tool designed to facilitate a student’s success in the development of language and literacy is the Story Grammar Marker® and its Methodology. The SGM® was chosen for the study because it fit this criteria and is a visual, tactile and kinesthetic iconic manipulative designed to help students recall and sequence story details, think critically about the characters’ motivation, feelings, plan and mental states, infer information not directly stated, and predict future events in literature and life.

Since its creation in 1991, many researchers have cited and noted Moreau’s work in the area of narrative development. One significant research review describes the impact of Story Grammar Marker®:

Much research has been done on the importance stories/narratives hold in the area of language and literacy development. In fact, “we think in terms of stories. Not only do we understand the world in terms of stories we’ve heard, our interpretation of personal problems and relationships is influenced by stories of others who have experienced similar situations. Furthermore, we understand-and explain-just about everything in life through stories” (Schank, 1990). Keeping this in mind, it is important to understand that “narrative retelling is a useful task for predicting which children may be at risk for later literacy problems” (Wellman, 2001, p.561). According to Wellman (2001), narrative macrostructure, the overall structure and organization of a story or expository text piece, appears to play an especially important role in the development of later literacy skills and language intervention involving oral narratives, may increase children’s reading comprehension as well as carry over to later written language skills.

There are multiple studies regarding the SGM® that were presented at ASHA and on the ASHA website.

“We dream, remember, anticipate, hope, despair, love, hate, believe, doubt, plan, construct, gossip, and learn in narrative.” —Carol Westby, PhD, CCC-SLP
“Telling stories puts a tremendous load on working memory because students must engage in several activities simultaneously. When children tell a story, they must keep in mind the overall gist of the story they are telling while simultaneously organizing each utterance, linking the utterances together in a temporal/causal sequence, and making certain that all utterances link to the theme and overall organization of the story. The Story Grammar Marker® reduces the load on working memory by externalizing the global structure and sequence of components in stories. This allows students to concentrate on translating their ideas into words and sentences to convey the content of each element of the story. When using the SGM®, they do not have to keep in mind where they are in the story.” Westby, 2003

Westby, C. (2003). The story grammar marker® and braidy, the storybraid®. Word of Mouth by ProEd, 15, 1, p. 11-12.
Westby, C. (2014). Offering choices in narrative intervention. Word of Mouth. 26: 14-16.

Linking Talking and Writing for LLD students

Story Grammar Marker® is recommended as a commercially available technique to link talking and writing for students with language learning disabilities. — Montgomery, J. (1998) Assessing talking and writing: linguistic competence for students at risk. Reading & writing quarterly. 14, 3.


Technology Application of Story Grammar Marker® and Narrative Developmental Stages — Sweeney, S. (2014). Looking at apps through developmental play and narrative stages. Presentation: SAC/OAC Ottawa.


Using Story Grammar Marker® for Collaboration Among Professionals — Angel, S., Butler, Y., Cichra, D., Moore, C, & Simonet, J. (2009). How do i work with the reading teacher without becoming one? SIG 16 Perspectives on School-Based Issues. 10, 45-50.

Deaf or Hard of Hearing

Story Grammar Marker® and ThemeMaker® were both identified as “Commercially Available Literacy Programs” that may be used as developed or adapted for use when working with children who use American Sign Language. — Nussbaum, D., Waddy-Smith, B. & Doyle, J. (2012) Students who are deaf and hard of hearing and use sign language: considerations and strategies for developing spoken language and literacy skills. Maximizing intervention for children who are deaf and hard of hearing. New York: Thieme Medical. Story Grammar Marker® used with Deaf children with Cochlear Implants Studies using Story Grammar Marker® with Deaf Children who have Cochlear Implants. — Justice, E., Swanson, L. & Buehler, V. (2008) Use of narrative‐based language intervention with children who have cochlear implants. Topics in Language Disorders. 28, 2, p 149-161.


Using Story Grammar Marker® with Children on the Autism Spectrum.
— Westby, C. (2012). Using narratives to develop theory of mind in children with autism spectrum disorders. Word of Mouth. 24, 2: pp. 6-9.
— Dodd, J., Ocampo, A. & Kennedy, K. (2011). Perspective taking through narratives: an intervention for students with asd. Communication Disorders Quarterly. 33, 1: pp. 23-33.

English Language Learners

Studies done on the efficacy of using Story Grammar Marker® as an intervention with English Language Learners.
— Miller, Rhonda D. (2013). The effects of story grammar on the oral narrative skills of english language learners with language impairments. All Dissertations. Paper 1402.
— Schoenbrodt, L., Kerins, M., & Gesell, J. (2003). Using narrative language intervention as a tool to increase communicative competence in Spanish-speaking children.
Language, Culture and Curriculum, 16 (1), 48-59.
— Westby, C. (2014) Narrative assessment for bilingual students. Word of Mouth. 26: 11-14.

Middle School

Positive Results in Use of Story Grammar Marker® and ThemeMaker® as Interventions with Middle School-Aged Children.
— Iuliano, B. (2012) Expository and narrative discourse in adolescents with reading and language impairments: assessment and intervention. Dissertations. Paper 525.

Language Samples

Language Samples Using Story Grammar Marker® Tools and Assessments.
— Ford, J., Gaskill, M. & Lemp, J. (2008). What? you want me to do a language sample? Sig 16 Perspectives on School-Based Issues. 9, 135-139.

Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC)

The presentationThe Story Grammar Marker® Defined with Core Vocabulary and Pixons® & Unity® Icon Sequences by Gail M. Van Tatenhove, PA, MS, CCC-SLP, describes an effective way to use SGM® and Braidy® tools with along with AAC systems, Unity® and Pixon®, to help students use more core vocabulary. The connection with the SGM® will enable students to think more deeply, comprehend and produce stories in a systematic manner. Click this link for a Presentation PDF that describes the method.

Additional Studies and Findings

HASKINS LABORATORIES at YALE UNIVERSITY used Braidy the StoryBraid® for the comprehension and expression module of a 4-year, US Office of Education Developmental Study on early literacy acquisition: “Students made an average of 1 year’s growth in reading skills after 45 hours of RtI instruction.”

The Story Grammar Marker® was a key task among 17 evidence-based reading tasks modeled after National Reading Panel findings (2001) that were used for Tier II & III intervention in a study at El Rancho Unified School District in Pico Rivera, CA. SGM® is now part of an RtI program called “Start-In” designed by Dr. Judy K. Montgomery and Dr. Barbara Moore-Brown, produced by SuperDuper.

Students Increased Their Use of Critical Thinking Elements of a Story:

The Experimental Group was 43% Above the Control Group In the Ability to Sequence a Story after intervention with the Story Grammar Marker®. New Orleans, LA Study in 2003

BAYLOR UNIVERSITY Study found significant (STATISTICAL SIGNIFICANCE in Pre- and Post-Test Results ANOVA P-value 0.0001 significance) increases in children’s narrative and comprehension skills after 6 weeks of language intervention with the Story Grammar Marker®.

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