Sunday, 19 May 2013

Story Mountains

I was told when I was a child that a story had a 'beginning', 'middle' and 'end'.  It meant nothing to me, I am a very visual person and words need fleshing out with images.  A 'story mountain' does this for me. I am not sure where the idea comes from, yet I know it is used extensively in the UK by teachers for written work.  For me it is a great tool for developing narrative.  Story mountains are readily available on the internet for free, the TES have some great ones.

Before I introduce this work I have worked extensively on sequencing, complex sentence coordination, mind maps and also vocabulary.  This helps the child become prepared for more complex narrative work.  It is not something I would introduce to the very young, but with adaptation it might be possible.

Story Mountains look like this:

The 'opening' is where you introduce the setting and the characters.  The 'build up' describes further information about the characters, what they are thinking and also feeling. It also builds up to explaining the 'problem' in the story.  The 'problem' discusses what the characters are confronted with, what they do, feel and think.  The resolution is describing how the problem is sorted out- the character's actions.  The ending is just that- is it happily ever after, are things really resolved?

At each point of the story mountain we create a small mind map so that all the details can be included.

The first time I introduce this idea I use a very simple picture book, which sticks to this story mountain format.  We read through the book and then reread it picking out the points on the mountain.  So the book might be something like 'The Three Little Pigs'. The opening being the mother sending them off; the build up is them choosing material and making their houses; the problem is the wolf coming, the resolution- them all being in the brick house and the wolf being 'got'; and the ending being the pigs having a party and being happy. 

We then begin to create our own stories using play based work.  For example, I might use playmobil knights and a dragon. The story would then be created together, and plotted on the story mountain.  It might look something like this-
Opening- There was a knight and a dragon who were friendly. They lived in a castle in the wood.
Build up- One night when they had gone to sleep a mean wolf came to the castle, and decided he would live there.
The Problem- The wolf wanted to scare the knight and dragon away from the castle and live there on his own. The knight and dragon were scared, and decided they needed to get rid of the wolf.
Resolution- The dragon caught the wolf and flew him a long way away, the wolf was lost.  The dragon came home. The dragon and knight were happy that the wolf was gone.
Ending- The dragon and knight had a party with their friends in the castle. 

Once we have completed the story mountain, the story mountain is used to retell the story.


Sunday, 5 May 2013

Subordinating Conjunctions

Subordinating Conjunctions.

I have many years of background working with pre school children, however recently I have begun working with school age children on language.  The principles are similar, that is- assess, aim set, therapy, review... but the things I am working on are different. Subordinating conjunctions are something I never have had to do.  So I needed a little research into understanding them more. 

Grammatically, subordinators can be simple (one word, 'because'), complex (more than one word, 'provided that') or correlative (two words relating to two parts of a sentence,'if...then'). Semantically, subordinators can indicate a number of different meanings, including time, reason, condition... (see Rediscover Grammar, David Crystal).  Essentially the subordinate conjunction links two clauses together, one is the main one (independent) and the other is the subordinate (dependent).  This creates a complex sentence- with one part of the sentence being more important than the other, and the subordinating conjunction indicating which part. 

Subordinating conjunctions emerge after coordinating ones. The subordinate conjunction 'because' appears around the age of between the age of 35-37 months, according to Brown's Language Stages (1978). 

So how do we put it into practice, for a 7 year old?  'So' and 'because' emerge as one of the first subordinate conjunctions- so I began with these.  I am a fan of colour in therapy, as most SLTs seem to be. I decided to use colour to separate out the 'what happened' part of the sentence to the 'explain why/reason/result' part. The 'what happened' was printed on red paper and the 'reason' on blue. Symbols were used to represent each clause of the sentence on card. These cards were put in a file together.  The child need to choose the right reason to go with what had happened- he could flip between different reasons and this meant he could see there can be various reasons for something to happen.  He also needed to test this to make sure it made sense.  We discussed the subordinate conjunction and created a mind map for it to go on- which backed up his need for working memory support. 

The ease of the file was that the same pictures could be used for both conjunctions targeted in the session. The 'because' conjunction is usually followed by the reason, whereas the 'so' indicates a result.. For example, 'the grass was long so I cut it' compared with 'I cut the grass because it was long'. therefore when working on the 'so' the blue cards are first and the pink second.  

The file also means that I can add to the file further conjunctions.  The mind map has space for further discussion too.  I like the mind map as there are pictures to back up the writing- the child is actively involved in its creation.  Again there is colour involved- research indicates that colour facilitates learning.  

It worked with this child, and even broken down to this level it made him think. Even better a few times later on in the session he was using the 'because' accurately.