Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Coffee Chat with Brookes Publishing - Story Frames Overview

The live Coffee Chat happened in March, but you can watch the recording at the Brookes Publishing Resource Library anytime. The video provides a nice overview of my book, Story Frames for Teaching Literacy: Enhancing Student Learning Through the Power of Storytelling. If you are wondering what it is about, visit the Story Frames page at Brookes Publishing.

The question and answer from the audience for the Brookes Coffee Chat follows:

Question: Does Story Frames introduce teaching of nouns, verbs, adjectives first or is this program more for students that have been taught the above concepts?

Answer: Story Frames addresses both the macrostructure of stories (the overarching plot structure) and the microstructure, the building blocks and key skills needed to understand and create stories. Parts of speech are taught within the context of the story using somewhat different terminology since struggling learners often have difficulty remembering terms like noun, verb, adjective, preposition, adverb, conjunction. Also, students can become easily confused when a word functions like a noun in one context and an adjective in another.

Because of my background as a speech-language pathologist, I start with oral language and focus on talking about stories long before writing about them. I have an entire chapter devoted to  Oral Retells: Vocabulary, Sequencing and Grammar (Chapter 5). At the end of that chapter, I discuss using Wh-Questions to help students verbally build complex sentences (Who or what is the subject of the sentence? What are they doing? Where are they doing it? When, Why etc.) I use questions to elicit parts of speech rather than asking specifically for examples of nouns, verbs, adjectives, and so forth. Chapter Five also includes a game for improving grammaticality judgment – determining if a variety of verbs are used correctly.

In Chapter 9, written by William Van Cleave, he talks about written language and sentence structure. Within his chapter, he addresses parts of speech by looking at the function of a word within a sentence as opposed to a label like noun, verb, adjective, or conjunction.

Question: Do you ever use other visuals such as sentence frames or sentence starters?

Answer: As mentioned above, I use Wh-Questions to build sentences. I have created a set of icons to go with each Wh- Question (Who, What Thing, What Action, Where, When, Why, How, Which One) to make these abstract concepts more concrete. The chart in chapter 5 – “Wh-Questions and Answers for Sentence Building” is an example of one way to create a graphic organizer for sentence construction.

In chapter 6, I provide several story starter activities. In the Brookes downloadable resources connected with that chapter, there is a slide deck called Dicey Stories. It helps students build a story sentence by sentence by providing options for each story element that may be selected by preference or by a roll of the dice. The Chapter 6 downloads also contain a template for a fill-in-the-blank Story Ad Lib based on the 12 elements. To give an idea of what this activity entails, I have a free fill-in-the-blank story-building template based on the 8 story elements available on my website. Go to the HOME page at and scroll to the bottom.

Question: Do you choose which story grammar outline you use depending on the students or do you have a preferred one?

Answer: The Basic Storyboard containing 8 elements can be used interchangeably with the Complete Storyboard containing 12 elements for the purpose of determining the level of story grammar complexity that a child is using. The questions on Westby’s Story Grammar Decision Tree (see Chapter 4) that help to determine story grammar level may be applied to a retelling based on either storyboard. Some very simple stories for young children will not contain all of the nuances of the Complete Storyboard; however, any story that contains all 12 elements may be retold using only 8. For writing purposes, I tend to use the basic storyboard with 8 elements when students are creating original stories and time is limited. I use the 12 elements when I want a student to write a more complex story. The twelve-element storyboard is also useful for writing a three-paragraph summary because the structure of the three rows of the storyboard fits nicely with the beginning, middle, and end structure of a summary.

Question: How does comprehension fit into story frames?  I'm thinking you have to have some comprehension before writing?

Answer: Chapter 8 is devoted to comprehension. Asking questions of students is valuable, but even more important is teaching students to ask themselves questions about a text. This self-questioning leads to the ability to clarify their understanding. Other strategies discussed in this chapter include forming mental images. Some students do it easily while others need explicit instruction on how to create visual images. Higher-order thinking is facilitated by looking at Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy and focusing on activities that move across the Cognitive Process Dimension (Remember, Understand, Apply, Analyze, Evaluate, and Create) and the Knowledge Dimension (Factual Knowledge, Conceptual Knowledge, Procedural Knowledge, and Metacognitive Knowledge.) Suggestions for exploring each dimension are provided at the end of Chapter 8. 

Question: Can you speak to informal writing assessments or rubrics that you use in tandem with some of these wonderful writing strategies?

Answer: Story Frames contains many informal assessments such as data collection sheets for grammaticality judgment and vocabulary (choosing correct definitions, using target words in a sentence, using target vocabulary during story retells). A Story Element Score Sheet lists each story element and what is required to achieve a score from 0-2 points for each item. It is useful for both oral retells and written summaries. Chapter 4 includes Westby’s Story Grammar Decision Tree (reprinted with permission). It can be implemented to assess a child’s level of story grammar usage.

Question: Do you have a specific Narrative Non-Fiction Picture book you like?

Answer: There are so many wonderful narrative non-fiction picture books available now. There are three books I particularly love, all with plots analyzed in Story Frames. They feature kids with disabilities or challenges of one kind or another such as Thank You, Mr. Falker written and illustrated by Patricia Polacco. See her interviews on Reading Rockets as she talks about topics like bullying and growing up with dyslexia. Emmanuel’s Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah written by Laurie Ann Thompson and illustrated by Sean Qualls features a young man who brings disability awareness to his home country of Ghana by riding a bicycle for 400 hundred miles with one leg. My students love watching YouTube videos of Emmanuel playing soccer with one leg and riding a bicycle with his prosthetic limb. The book on which I base many of the activities found in Story Frames is Six Dots: A Story of Young Louis Braille written by Jen Bryant and illustrated by Boris Kulikov. I was fascinated to discover that Louis Braille created the Braille writing system while a teenager and a student at the Royal School for the Blind.

If you would like to check out other titles, I have created a list of 32 picture books and novels featured in Story Frames. I have completed a plot analysis for each book and these appear in the downloadable resources at the Brookes hub. Fourteen of those books are narrative non-fiction picture books. A listing of these books appears in the introduction of Story Frames. The list may also be found at
Question: Hello! I work with younger children, and I had a question - do you know at which age children begin recognizing patterns in stories, as well as when they begin to really comprehend and recall the outcomes of different stories?

Answer: I have an entire chapter dedicated to Understanding Narrative Development (Chapter 4), so it is a complex topic. I will say that understanding the structure of stories helps children remember the plots and the outcomes of different stories. In preschool, young children tell stories with events that may appear on a timeline with one action coming before another, but with very little linking the events. Then the beginnings of cause and effect emerge, but the events of a story tend to be reactionary rather than purposeful. In the early elementary years, goals appear in the stories children tell, but planning is often only implied. As storytelling skills advance, planning is more apparent. In the late elementary grades, children tell stories with obstacles arising to block a character's goals or plans.

Question: What is the exact difference between story elements and story frames?

Answer: Imagine an old-fashioned reel of film. Now imagine each frame within that reel. The frame is a still shot in the story. The story element is what is contained within that frame. The story elements are represented by terms that describe a specific plot point or concept within a story such as the Ordinary World, Call & Response etc. Each element is represented with an icon. The story frames are the containers or units in which that information appears. For instance, the beginning of a story contains 4 frames of information. Each frame contains one of the story elements.

Question: What are some helpful websites that come to mind for virtual learning?

Answer: That depends on your goals and objectives as well as your setting and the number of students involved. Keep in mind that copyrights may affect the terms of use of the products below. is a free site. I believe there is also a paid option with more features. It has games for parts of speech, idioms, homophones, verb tense, capitalization and punctuation. Toontastic 3D is an app for creating animated cartoon stories. It is free and can be used on a phone, tablet or Chromebook with options for a 3 or 5 part story. The 5 part story includes a setup, conflict, challenge, climax, and resolution. Students can choose animated characters and settings, and move characters around within those settings while adding a voice-over feature to create a mini-movie. An iPad can be connected to a computer so that what is on the screen of the iPad can be displayed on a computer screen, but I don’t know of a way to give the student control of the iPad. They can play director and verbally tell you what to do which is an excellent way to build oral language skills, for instance by describing which character or setting to pick for a specific scene. is a website for kids ages 2-8. It includes 450 books (traditional trade books as well as books they have created for their site). The website has educational games and songs. There are writing activities to work on sentence structure, punctuation, and parts of speech. Progress tracking is available. There is a monthly fee but the first month is free. Inspiration software can be used to work on concept mapping, brainstorming, webbing, and outlining.

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