Storytelling: The oral language of first-grade students

Debra Barbara Schuller, Fordham University


This study examined the content and narrative structure of oral stories that were produced by first-graders when their teacher individually asked them to tell her a story on three different occasions over the course of one school year (in the fall, winter, and spring). The participants were 11 girls and 11 boys from an intact, public school class located in a suburb of New York City. Four children's stories were presented as mini-case studies, with an in-depth analysis of the storytellers' uses of language, story conventions, story organization, content, and characters. Findings from the general corpus of 66 stories were also reported. Results indicated an increase over time in the mean number of words per story, and in the number of stories employing dialogue, proper names, opening phrases, and concluding statements. Explicitly stated titles and traditional archetypal elements were evident in some data. Most of the stories were organized as either unfocused or focused chains. Two major content categories emerged: primarily factual and primarily fictional. Most of the primarily factual stories were based on the storyteller's personal experiences, and included family members and friends as the characters. The primarily fictional stories often included personified animals as characters. Two of the ten hypotheses generated as a result of this investigation were: (a) by the end of first grade, most children have appropriated vocabulary associated with story genre and have developed a general understanding of story structure; and (b) participation in storytelling activities provides children with an authentic opportunity to develop and use their listening and speaking skills. One implication of this investigation is that recording students' storytelling productions can provide teachers with documentation of their oral language and narrative development. The teacher-researcher describes several ways that classroom practitioners may incorporate storytelling into their pre-existing curricular themes and activities. Some recommendations for further research were to investigate: (a) the influence of family storytelling experiences on student productions, (b) how types of elicitation and audiences affect the storytelling of children, and (c) the relationship between children's oral storytelling and their written narratives.

Subject Area

Language arts|Elementary education|Communication

Recommended Citation

Schuller, Debra Barbara, "Storytelling: The oral language of first-grade students" (2001). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3021714.