Monday, May 10, 2021

Talking about Stories: Language Comprehension

In my last blog post I explored a tool to help teach reading comprehension: The Story Grammar Marker. At Cherry Tree we've done some great work on the science of reading, especially when it comes to word recognition. This year I began to explore tools to support the other strand of Scarborough's Rope, specifically the Story Grammar Marker.


Story Grammar Marker in Action

I spent two weeks in a first grade class introducing the Story Grammar Marker (SGM). Because I'm a novice and have never been to an official training on this tool. I read through the teacher manual, watched some of the Mindwing webinars, and read a few blog posts from educators who have used the SGM. Armed with that knowledge, this is how my lessons in first grade played out.

Day 1

The lesson started strong! I started by asking the class to think about with the word language means.

"Boys and girls, I want to teach you a very fancy word. Thumbs up if you've ever heard the word 'language' before?" About half the class raised their hands. "Wow! Some of you have! Turn and talk with your neighbor. What does that fancy word mean? What does 'language' mean?" 

The students all talked together and then I had a few share out. These first graders had great insights! Here are some of their responses.
  • "Language is like how you talk. Like some people speak in Japanese."
  • "It means nice words and mean words."
  • "It's how to tell what you mean."
  • "Language is words."
Next, my plan was to introduce a different strand of language each day with a specific read aloud. These strands and read alouds are listed in the SGM teacher manual starting on page 17. 

The first strand to introduce was pragmatics. The recommended book was Manners by Aliki. This book was a little boring and it was hard to draw the connection to pragmatics. This part of the lesson was lost on the class.

I concluded that lesson and reworked the next day's lesson.

Day 2

Instead of teaching each strand of language each day, I decided to take classes responses the word language and tie them to the different strands. I created this visual.

Each of the SGM's strands are represented by a picture. I showed the poster and we briefly talked about each strand, connecting it back to the discussion we had the previous day. I explained that ALL of these things are braided together to create language. I told the students that there is a very important tool we can use to help us express language when we talk about stories. I pulled out my SMG. 

"This is Story Braidy." I told the class. The class chuckled as a walked the SGM around the room. I read aloud Those Shoes by Maribeth Boelts. I chose this book because it was highlighted in one of the Mindwing webinars. It was an engaging book, but a little long for a single lesson. I introduced the most basic components of the SGM: Character, setting and actions.

This lesson went better, but Those Shoes is a long book. There wasn't much time to teach about the SGM components.

Day 3

My third day in first grade I found a series of shorter stories to use with the SGM. The class was excited to try using Story Braidy again! I handed out a bookmark that had the SGM components on it and read Nathaniel's Family Visit to the class. This story was short and simple. It made it easy to teach and reinforce the components of the SGM. Students were engaged and did a good job retelling the important parts of the story!


I'm so glad I was able to learn more about the Story Grammar Marker by teaching it in a first grade classroom. The ultimate goal was to support students' language comprehension. Thought the initial lessons were bumpy, this goal was achieved. These first graders were able to use the SGM to help make inferences, building vocabulary, and increase literacy knowledge.

I have created a set of introductory lessons that anyone could pick up and use. These lessons could be used whole class, small group, or in a one-on-one intervention. If you have a student who struggles with reading comprehension, even if the story is read aloud, this is the tool for you! As always, please reach out if this is something you are interested in trying!

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Talking about Stories: Language Comprehension

In my last blog post I explored a tool to help teach reading comprehension: The Story Grammar Marker. At Cherry Tree we've done some gre...