A little while ago, Elizabeth posted an introduction to narrative therapy – what it is, why it’s important and some suggested resources to help work on these skills. You can read that post here. There, she talks specifically about the Black Sheep narrative packs. These packs use a particular framework for teaching narrative.
What happened? (with lots of expansion of this one for older kids that we’ll go into another day)
(These are often presented in a different order with older children, where we tend to focus on talking about the setting first and then moving on to characters afterwards).
I find this a helpful way of introducing narrative skills to children and giving a structure to basic stories. This is the first of a series of posts looking at each aspect of this story-telling framework. Today’s topic is “who” or the characters of stories.
When I introduce the who, where and when aspects to younger children (3-7 year olds) I tend to spend some time working on the meaning of these question words. Question words are extremely difficult for children with language difficulties to understand as they all sound very similar and are quite abstract concepts. I use pictures and Makaton signing to help them to differentiate between these different words and what they mean.
We play lots of games aimed at them being able to understand a who question, and also talk about people and characters. This tends to involve a lot of vocabulary work. With this age-group I mostly concentrate on just naming people or animals, or using a single word to describe them (eg a unicorn, an alien, a policeman, a granny etc). Here are some examples of things I have done – many of these ideas are listed in the Black Sheep resources, and lots more too….
- In a group of children I ask questions such as “who has brown hair?”, “who wears glasses?”, “who has a jumper on?” etc. and ask them to stand up if it is them.
- We look at objects and match them to who might use them – eg “who uses a fire engine?” or “who uses a bag full of letters?” You can do this with pictures or without (without is much more challenging).
- We play lots of games with pictures of people – pulling them out of a bag, jumping on them, running to them around the room etc and saying “who” is in the picture.
- We talk about who lives in each child’s house and who they meet at school. This is often harder than talking about people in the room or pictures which are in front of them, as it is more abstract and there are no visual clues to support.
- We also talk about who was in a simple story that we read. It is nice with this age-group to finish each session with a story and talk about the characters, to link the work back all the time to story-telling. Some lovely simple books to do this with include Dear Zoo, Noisy Farm and There’s a Monster in My House.
With older or more able children, we then move on to talking more about the people and really describing characters, as well as using more imagination to invent their own characters. Here are some ideas of activities for older children to work on the who/character in stories.
- We talk through different aspects that you can describe about someone – looks, clothes, personality etc. We think of words to go in each category. I sometimes get children to describe another child in the group or describe their best friend.
- I often use mind mapping with older kids (8+) to help them record and expand all of their ideas about a character.
- We also choose a favourite fictional character and describe them. I often bring a selection of pictures of fictional characters to this session as children often find it hard to choose or to recall what their favourite character looks like without a picture.
- We look at descriptions of characters in books – what did the author choose to describe and what makes it interesting.
- I often get each child to invent their own character, or we devise one together as a group. I encourage them to be as creative as they like and think about details – so we might have a very old pink alien with blue spots who has 9 arms and twelve eyes. Then we might talk about how big he is, who his friends are, what he likes to do and eat etc. Kids with language difficulties often find all of this quite challenging, as there are no right or wrong answers and it requires lateral thinking and imagination.
What other activities do you use to help children understand who questions and talk about characters in stories?
The next post in this series is about the where of stories. You can find it here.