Reading Comprehension: Teaching the Literary Elements of Narrative Stories Through Students' Personal Lives-Part 1
Timothy G. Weih, Ph.D.
University of Northern Iowa, USA
September 2016

Note: This is the first part of a two part article.

Reading Comprehension

Elementary students' reading comprehension many times hinges on them being able to make personal connections to the content of what they are reading. If students are able to relate to a story by seeing relationships between the literary elements or the characters, settings, problems, and events in the story to their own lives, then the likelihood of them being able to more fully understand the story is enhanced. Some students seem more capable of making these connections naturally, while others experience a disconnect between the reading of a story and how the story relates to their lives. Usually these are the students who struggle with reading comprehension and the motivation to read in general. In other words, they just don't get anything out of it.

If students are struggling with reading comprehension of narrative stories, a great strategy to teach them is Story Face (adapted from Staal, 2000), which incorporates the main or basic literary elements of narrative stories (i.e., characters, settings, problems, and associated events) into a graphic map in the shape of a human face. In addition to gaining the literacy benefits of this strategy which are described in the next section, students will learn how to make connections between their personal lives and those of characters in a story.

Literacy Benefits

The Story Face strategy has many inherent benefits for teaching literacy to elementary students. It uses very few words for getting meaning across, thereby easy to use for students who struggle with reading and writing. The graphics of the Story Face itself are very simplistic; therefore students can simply draw the components on their own which will help them remember what they are. Since the labeled graphics form a human face, they are easy to relate to. The main parts of the Story Face emphasize the main literacy components of all narrative stories which aid students in seeing similar patterns across multiple texts. This helps them to see how authors create stories and how stories are framed. This text type knowledge can lead to further deepen students' reading comprehension through familiarity and association.

Making Preparations for Teaching Story Face

To prepare for teaching the literacy strategy of Story Face, the teacher creates an example for modeling or showing the elementary students so they are very clear on what the expectations will be for the outcome of the strategy. Since the main objective of this strategy is promoting students' personal connections to narrative stories, begin by using the narratives students already possess in their personal lives. This can be modeled by the teacher demonstrating a story from his own life. He thinks of a problem that he recently encountered that he had to work through in order to solve. Pick one that you think students would relate to the most. Next, map out your story using the Story Face map described as follows.

Draw a large face
• The Eyes. Using a full sheet of paper, draw two large circles representing a person's eyes with eye lashes (three for each eye).
• The Left Eye. In the center of the left eye, write in, using as few words as possible, the setting for your personal story, and on the eyelashes above the left eye, write three words that describe the setting. Below the left eye write the label-Setting, and next to the lashes write the label-Description.
• The Right Eye. In the center of the right eye, write in your name as the main character, and on the eyelashes above the right eye, write the names of any minor characters. Below the right eye write the label-Main Character, and next to the lashes label-Minor Characters.
• The Nose. Draw a rectangle for the nose of the face. Inside of it, write in as few words as possible, a description of your problem. You do not have to use sentences. Below the nose write the label-Problem.
• The Mouth. Draw circles for the mouth, with each one containing a few words that describe what you did in order to solve your problem. Each circle contains a separate event leading up to the last circle in which you write the concluding event. Below the mouth write the label-Main Events.

• Use the Map to Write the Complete Story. Use your Story Face map as a guide to compose the complete story as a narrative writing composition.

• Make Student Teams. The teacher predetermines the teams that students will be working in for this present strategy as well as for future, collaborative literacy-based projects, making sure each team has a diverse mix of students in regards to academic ability, language, race, and gender, so that students can draw from each other's strengths. Teams of four students each usually work best.

Model and Guided Practice

This strategy will only take about 30-45 minutes to teach, depending on the age level of elementary students. Begin by explaining to students that we all have problems that we face each day in our lives. We might have a problem with our mom, dad, sister, brother, teacher, pet, or possibly with a thing or possession that we have. Tell students that many times we share our problems with our friends, and these become our stories, our personal stories. Authors write books about children's personal stories related to problems that they are facing in their lives. These book stories, like our own personal stories, have things in common with each other, for example, they all have people or animals in them, known as the CHARACTERS. The person or animal the story is mostly about is called the MAIN CHARACTER, while the other characters are called the MINOR CHARACTERS. In addition, they all have a place where the story happened, known as the SETTING. Stories are built around a PROBLEM that the main character is dealing with, and the steps the main character takes in order to work through the problem are known as the MAIN EVENTS of the story. The teacher writes the Story Face vocabulary noted in the article in all capital print, while he is talking, so that all students can easily see the words. The teacher continues to explain that together, these parts form the foundation built into most narrative stories, and that learning the main parts of our own personal stories helps us as readers to relate to and understand the main parts in book stories, thereby increasing our enjoyment of reading.

Next, the teacher tells the students that they are going to think of a problem that happened to them recently and then record the main parts of their stories using a map called a STORY FACE. But, before they begin, the teacher shares his own personal story mapped out in the Story Face he prepared as a model for students. The teacher's Story Face map is displayed on a classroom screen so that all students can easily see it. Next, the teacher either passes out a premade, blank Story Face map, or has the students copy a displayed, blank map on the classroom screen unto their papers.

The teacher has the students close their eyes, take a deep breath in, and then let it out slowly. This will help them relax and focus. Then have students think of a problem that they had recently encountered. Allow them about 30 seconds to think quietly. Have students open their eyes, and without talking, map out their stories using the Story Face map.

After it looks like most students have completed their Story Face maps, put students into their predetermined teams for a time of sharing their stories. Encourage students to change their stories however they want to while they are sharing, but rather than erasing anything, just draw a line through it and write their new words next to it.

Narrative Writing Composition. As soon as possible following the Story Face mapping, the teacher shares his completed narrative story composition that accompanies his Story Face map explaining that the maps students constructed can now be used as a foundation to compose a completed story. Next, the teacher has students write out their stories in the format of a narrative writing composition giving each student a copy of his own composition as a model to guide them. Allow students to remain in their collaborative literacy teams for the sake of helping each other through the writing processes (see Weih, 2015).

Note: Please see part 2 of this article for the remaining information.
Teaching the Literary Elements of Narrative Stories-Part 2


Staal, L. (2000). The story face: An adaptation of story mapping that incorporates visualization and discovery learning to enhance reading and writing. Reading Teacher, 54(1), 26-31.

Weih, T. G. (2015). Literature-based content writing instruction for grades K-3.

Copyright © 2016 Timothy G. Weih, Ph.D.
University of Northern Iowa, USA

About Author / Additional Info:
Timothy G. Weih is an associate professor of education at the University of Northern Iowa, USA, and teaches elementary teaching methods courses.