How Should my Child Tell Stories?


February 9, 2021

By: Suzanne Moore, M.S., CCC-SLP

The way that children retell stories or events is a powerful factor that speech-language pathologists (SLPs) can use to help diagnose language disorders and understand how students use language to communicate. It can also help us understand how students comprehend what they read or hear. SLPs often hear concerned parents describe having a hard time truly grasping what their child is talking about when they tell their family about the events of their day or tell stories. Sometimes parents find themselves asking frequent questions or doing a lot of inferencing to understand the details of the event or story their child is describing. 

Children with language disorders tend to tell or retell stories that demonstrate their poor understanding of temporal and causal relations, have few specific details, errors with the information they present, and significantly decreased length. However, what should be expected for a child’s ability to tell or retell stories varies significantly based on their age. 

Knowing what to expect from a child’s ability to produce narratives based on their age can be another helpful tool to assist parents with understanding their child’s language development. It should be noted that the way children and adults produce narratives can vary based on their cultural and linguistic background. 

Typical story structures by age:

Age 2-3

Heap Stories: 

  • Mainly consists of labeling events or actions
  • No organization among the events
  • Sentences are simple declaratives (i.e. The frog jumped. The girl is eating.)

Age 3

Sequence Stories:

  • The sequence of events that have something to do with a central character or setting
  • Although there is no true plot, there is a description of the events related to the main character
  • The actions of the main character are not necessarily chronologically or causally ordered

Age 4-4.5

Primitive Narratives:

  • Stories contain an initiating event, an attempt (actions of the main character in pursuit of a goal), and some consequences (discussion of the achievement or non-achievement of the character’s goal) that have to do with the central events/theme. 
  • No true story ending
  • No discussion of the character’s motivation

Age 4.5-5

Chain Narrative

  • Show some cause and effect and temporal relationships
  • The plot is not strong and does not connect to the motivations of the characters
  • There is a story ending, but it might be abrupt or illogical in relation to the events
  • Contains an initiating event, an attempt, and some consequences
  • Character motivation might be present

Age 5-7 

True Narrative

  • Central theme, character, and plot are present
  • Character’s motivations are discussed
  • Events are chronological and cause-effect relationships are established
  • Contains an initiating event, attempt, consequences, and a resolution (ending that is related to the main problem)

Your SLP can help with assessing your child’s narrative ability if you have any concerns. They can also use evidence-based interventions to improve your child’s ability to expressive themselves via narratives and storytelling.


Paul, Rhea, Courtenay F. Norbury. Language Disorders from Infancy through Adolescence. St. Louis: Elsevier Inc., 2012. Print. 

Suzanne Moore is a speech-language pathologist at Enrichment Therapy and Learning Center.  ETLC has locations in the Iowa City, IA area and Des Moines, IA area.  We provide individual speech language therapy and tutoring as well as offering a unique group Language Enrichment Academic Program (LEAP).  At Enrichment Therapy and Learning Center our passion is to help kids achieve effective communication skills and gain academic success.  Contact us for more information on how we can help your child succeed.

2570 106th Street, Suite E
Urbandale, IA 50322

1210 Jordan Street, Suite 2A
North Liberty, IA 52317

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