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Bridging the Gap: Making the Jump from Narrative Retell to Personal Narratives | Narrative Language

Updated: Nov 3, 2022

As I was going through my google drive and deleting things I didn't need anymore, I came across this paper that I wrote in graduate school. I still very much stand by and utilize the principles and strategies I outlined.

Enjoy this treasure I found!

*Note: My maiden name was Clark.

Download the original PDF here.

Bridging the Gap: Making the Jump from Narrative Retell to Personal Narratives

By: Kallie Clark

Are you moving on to personal narratives, but having a hard time making the jump from narrative retell to personal narratives? Some kids make the jump just fine, but for others it can be more difficult. I had clients that seemed to get narratives down, but when I tried to work on personal did not go over so well. Which led me to ask: is there a better way? Is there an “in-between” step that I can take to make personal narratives easier? I didn’t find anything in the literature that answered my question, so I decided to take matters into my own hands. I created my own “in-between” step which I called “simulated quasi-personal experiences.” Despite the silly name, this approach seemed to help facilitate personal narrative development in my client sample of n=1. Despite my sample size being small, I have great hopes that this will work for any of your clients struggling with personal narratives! It is, after all, grounded in a narrative-based approach to language intervention, which is certainly evidence based (Petersen, 2011).

Simulated Quasi-Personal Experiences

Once I have worked with a client on narratives and he/she has gotten pretty good (very detailed description, I know) and has demonstrated that he/she understands the basic structure of a story, I will start to implement my simulated quasi-personal experiences. Basically what these simulated quasi-personal experiences entail is purposefully creating some kind of problem in the session (e.g., crayons are missing) so that I can explicitly point out story elements that are occurring in real time during the experience. If that doesn’t make sense now, don’t worry! I’ll run through an example later! Yes, the situations can be a little contrived, but the client doesn’t need to know that! Perhaps this is best illustrated using an example. Don’t mind my comments that I will make throughout the story. They are the color blue, marked by a ‘*’ and italicized.

Exhibit A: Missing Crayons

During one session, I told my client that we would be coloring as our next activity. We color often, so my client knew exactly where the crayons were typically located. He jumped up, ran to the cabinet, opened the door...and to his dismay, the crayons were GONE. *Here I first try to let my client realize that there is a problem. If the client doesn’t recognize there is a problem, I explicitly state the problem.* In this case, my client did realize there was a problem, as was demonstrated by his wide gaze and cute response, “Where did they go?!” To which I responded, “Oh no! The crayons are gone! We can’t color without crayons!” Right after I said that, I held up the ‘problem’ story grammar icon (see right) and said “uh oh, this is a problem!” *Notice how I narrate the experience we are having and explicitly, both verbally and visually, point out the story grammar element that is associated with what is going on (i.e., that there is a problem).*

I then prompted my client by asking, while simultaneously showing him the ‘emotion/feeling’ icon (see left), “well dang, how do you feel now?” *The child may respond appropriately with an emotion or they may need you to model a response for him/her (e.g., you are feeling sad because the crayons are gone).* My client responded, “sad.” I then expanded his response and said “yeah, me too. We are feeling sad because our crayons are missing.” Next, I showed my client the ‘action/attempt’ icon (see right) and said, “well, what are we going to do to fix the problem?” *I usually try to let my client come up with a response, as I think this is

a good opportunity for our clients to use their problem solving skills to come up with a potential solution. It also makes the experience very real and natural. Of course, if the client needs help, provide support or a model as needed.* My client responded, “get more crayons!” I further probed my client to see how me might get some crayons. He suggested we go see Lauren (the student secretary), as she has always had anything we needed in the past. I responded, “great idea! We can solve our problem by asking Lauren for crayons. Let’s

go ask.” *I personally really like when the solution to the problem involves another person outside of the therapy room. It provides fabulous opportunities to interact with others and practice social skills (e.g., requesting, eye contact, etc.). Don’t let those opportunities slip by!* We went to see Lauren, and my client asked her if she had any crayons. Lauren responded, “yes, I do!” and gave my client some crayons (after practicing some of his social skills targets, of course!). We then returned to the therapy room with our crayons. As we entered the therapy room, I pulled out the ‘action/attempt’ icon again and said, “hey, that was a good action/attempt to solve our problem! We asked Lauren for some crayons, and she gave us some. Now we can color!” *Usually at this point, the client is excited, not only because

he/she gets to color, but because he/she solved his/her own problem, which is motivating on its own. I try to make the experiences, however contrived, emotionally salient.*

Once we sat down to start coloring, I pulled out the ‘ending’ icon (see right) and said, “Now that we have crayons, we can color! We got a happy ending! *Yes, I know, “happy ending” can seem a little unnatural or contrived, but it hasn’t seemed to ever bother my client, and it doesn’t hurt to be explicit, at least in the beginning.* As we were coloring, I also pulled out the ‘end feeling’

icon (see left) and asked my client, “how do you feel now that we can color?” *Again, I always let the client respond and expand his/her response if necessary.* My client responded, “happy!” I then expanded his response and said, “yeah, I feel happy that we get to color now too!”

Don’t Stop Now!

I don’t stop here. Walking the client explicitly through a personal experience is not enough for me. I want to hear my client tell me back that experience. After all, that is the goal we are hoping to achieve: that the client will tell a complete and cohesive story about something that happen to him/her.


I am a big fan of journaling for many reasons, but for the purposes of personal narrative intervention, it gives me an opportunity to let the child tell me what happened during the session. If the client doesn’t bring up the experience him/herself, I will prompt the client and say, “oh! We can’t forget the story of the missing crayons! Tell me that story and I will write it down.” As the child dictates the story, I write. When I first started this out, I had small paper strips with the story grammar elements printed on them (see below).

I let my client use the visuals to support his retelling of the experience and I eventually faded the visual cues as he talked about the experiences more independently. While my client is recounting the experience, I take the opportunity to treat the task like Story Champs. If my client omits a story grammar element, I 1) stop him, 2) prompt him to include the part of the story he missed, 3) go back one step (e.g., if he missed the feeling, go back to the problem) and 4) prompt him to keep telling the story and not to forget to tell me the part he missed. I follow this correction procedure as he tells me about the entire experience.

Don’t Let Them Off the Hook Just Yet!

What? What else could you make your client do?? Yes, I get this question a lot. I make the client tell the story yet again. AGAIN!? Yes, again. But not to me.

Post-Session Debriefing with Mom/Dad

I do journaling at the end of each session, so by the time my client has finished telling me the story, and it is all written down in the journal, it is time to go, and my client can’t wait to show his journal and story to his dad. This provides yet another opportunity for the client to practice telling his story. And it doesn’t seem like repeating the story over and over (especially to new people) bothers my client. He loves to tell people his stories, especially when he solved the problem.

Parent Education/Training

This part is optional, however, I really think that this may be the most powerful part of this whole thing. I took just a few minutes to explain to the parents what story grammar elements are (e.g., hints that help us remember to include the important parts of a story) and what the icons represent (e.g., character, setting, problem, etc.). I also explained that it is both important and helpful for my client to have a framework in mind for stories so that he can know how to share experiences. Once the parents understood this, they were the MVPs. When my client ran to the lobby after the session to show his dad his journal, his dad always prompted him, “oh, tell me this story!” (pointing to story in the journal). His dad was also quick to chime in and help Henry remember to include all the parts of the story (e.g., if the client forgot to mention how he felt after the problem, his dad asked, “but wait, how did you feel when X happened?”). Great parents make such a difference :)

Key Principles

Here are a few key principles that I think are important for any intervention, but particularly for this.

  • It’s all about reps. The more exposure the child has to story structure, they better they will be able to map their own experiences onto the structure. The more times the child can tell the story, the better. I could go on. In terms of repetition, more is always going to be better (within reason, of course!).

  • Adapt to your client’s needs. If you need to use less icons, use less icons. If you need to use more, use more. Make it as hard or easy as your client needs. For example, when pointing out story grammar elements during our simulated quasi-personal experiences, I never explicitly pointed out the character(s) or setting because my client had that down and didn’t need it. If your client needs that support, add those elements back in!

  • Move on to real experiences ASAP. While the simulated quasi-personal experiences facilitate great personal narratives, I think the end goal is to talk about past experiences even more far removed than what happened the past hour in therapy.


Petersen, D. B. (2011). A Systematic Review of Narrative-Based Language Intervention With Children Who Have Language Impairment. Communication Disorders Quarterly, 32(4), 207–220.

The icons are from Story Champs, a language intervention curriculum made by Language Dynamics Group.

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1 Comment

Marissa Brangman
Marissa Brangman
Feb 09, 2022

This sure was a treasure! Thanks for sharing!

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