Developing Language for Literacy

Many students often experience difficulty accessing the literacy curriculum in the regular classroom. This is partly because their reduced proficiency for academic language interferes with the beneficial effects of typical classroom instructional strategies.

Children who experience these difficulties are less likely to provide correct answers to literal or inferential questions about stories that have been read to them. The stories they tell are often shorter with fewer story grammar elements and more grammatically incorrect utterances than stories produced by typically-developing students. These children also tend to create stories that contain fewer complex sentences, less-diverse vocabulary, and limited literature language features. Therefore, it makes academic sense to target narration in intervention with students who acquire academic skills more slowly than others. 

What is the SKILL Program?

A narrative language intervention program, Supporting Knowledge in Language and Literacy (SKILL), is based on research in the fields of developmental psycholinguistics and discourse processing. SKILL was designed to provide school-age children with language learning difficulties with the cognitive and linguistic skills that underlie narrative comprehension and composition. Quantitative results from summarised studies show that SKILL is associated with consistently moderate to large effect sizes for improving narrative proficiency, ranging from 0.66 to 2.54 for students with language learning difficulties aged 5–11 years. These results have direct benefits in the classroom in language and literacy development.

Instruction in story grammar is a widespread practice among regular and special education teachers, as well as speech-language pathologists. However, there are few if any programs that focus on the development of the complex cognitive and linguistic skills that underlie narration plus training in the metacognitive skills necessary to internalise an understanding of narrative and to generalise that understanding to literacy instruction. Similar to other approaches to improving narrative proficiency, SKILL begins with lessons on basic story grammar elements. However, SKILL is unique in its focus on the development of the cognitive and linguistic skills that underlie story complexity, and finally on its emphasis on fostering metacognitive skills to improve comprehension-monitoring, which is an important problem for children with LLD. 

Program Objectives

  • describe characters, settings and major events in stories using key details
  • acknowledge differences in point of view of characters
  • describe character traits, motivations and feelings
  • describe characters thoughts, words and actions
  • highlight story grammar elements with and without cognitive supports
  • use causal connections to link elements
  • create own characters, settings, events and actions
  • use pictographic planners to support learning
  • increase narrative vocabulary
  • answer comprehension (factual and inferential) questions
  • develop temporal relationships among events
  • target co-ordinated and subordinated clauses, metacognitive and metalinguistic verbs, adverbs, elaborated noun phrases and mental state words
  • develop dialogue skills
  • use editing rubric to evaluate own stories

The program will be run over four phases:

Created by Olivia Connelly using the following resource:
Gillam, S and Gillam, R (2016) Narrative Discourse Intervention for School-Aged Children