Three powerful strategies for teaching narrative structure (for all ages)

Today we're going to look at three strategies for teaching narrative to young writers. These strategies are straightforward ways to assess someone's understanding of a narrative's structure, and they also help students get better at creatively structuring their own narratives.

1. Traditional Cloze Exercises

A cloze exercise is a tool that is commonly used for assessing a child's ability to "fill in the gaps" in a story.

A very basic example of a cloze would be something like this:

"John was crying because he was __"
"I talked _
the doctor and __ said I was sick"

If a child fills in the blanks with suitable words, they must understand the phrase. This is a very powerful way to measure sentence or paragraph comprehension.

The Origin of Cloze Test

The term "cloze" comes from the word closure, which refers to an important concept in Gestalt psychology.

To demonstrate this concept, notice how your mind fills in the gaps in the following images.
gestalt closure image test

These are not full shapes, but we still perceive them as shapes from the partial outline.

We perceive language in the exact same way.

As long as we understand the vocabulary and context of a sentence, humans naturally "fill in" and complete any missing words in our heads.

Generate Cloze Tests

You can easily test general reading comprehension by using a tool to remove every 5th word. By writing your own cloze, you can evaluate specific criteria. For example, if you wanted to assess emotional understanding you could use something like:

  • "When Jane's mother left the country, Jane was very ___ "

A child that understands the emotional content of this sentence should say something like "sad", or "lonely".

Interestingly, if you are a writer, you can also use this tool to test whether your writing is clear enough to provide context cues. If your target audience doesn't fill in the blanks correctly, your story might be unclear!

Here is a great tool you can use to make a cloze:

2. The Macro Cloze

A traditional cloze is for assessing sentence comprehension, but a macro cloze can assess a child's understanding of an entire story or sequence. Instead of taking out words, we now take out the beginning, middle, or end of a story. A macro cloze can range from a few sentences to an entire short story. Here are some short examples:

  1. We had never lost a game of soccer against another school.
  2. __________
  3. I guess we should have practiced more...


  1. __________
  2. It started to rain really hard.
  3. I guess I should listen to what my parents say next time

These cloze examples are more open ended, but they still provide a context that a child has to understand in order to finish the story correctly. For older students, longer and more complicated macro-cloze exercises would be more appropriate.

Playing with a narrative's structure is important for writers of all ages. A study in "Reading Research Quarterly" found that third graders grasp a story's implicit structure worse than older students.

The Macro Close Exercise is great because it allows for creative storytelling, but also allows people to grapple with a story's structure.

3. Writing Prompts

A final strategy for teaching narrative structure is to use writing prompts.

Writing prompts are a very open ended way to help children develop stories. These allow for more creativity, but still impose a minimal amount of structure for a child to incorporate into their story.

All three of these techniques can be used for students at different comprehension levels, and allow for varying degrees of creative freedom in writing a narrative.


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