search Menu

Sequencing and narrative skills

Sequencing is the ability to put ideas into the right chronological order. This skill is important for telling stories, recounting events, organisational skills, giving and responding to instructions and understanding consequences.

Narrative (or story telling) is any account (written or spoken) that describes a sequence of events. These events could be real or fictional and be set in the past, present or future.

When describing an event, we often talk about people, places, events, the order that things happened/will happen and the outcome. This requires a complex set of skills, including generating ideas, planning, sequencing, setting the scene, vocabulary knowledge, use of time and sequencing concepts, understanding ‘cause and effect’ relationships, and maintaining attention and focus. Effective narrative skills support people to organise and make sense of the events in their lives.

  • Poor organisation throughout the day
  • Written and spoken information in the wrong order
  • Tasks may not be fully completed or they have missed out important bits of information or particular steps
  • Struggling to express ideas clearly, pausing and revising what they’ve said
  • Telling stories or giving information that’s difficult to follow or understand
  • Teach and reinforce the concepts of time (dates, days of the week, months of the year, what will happen this lesson) and use a daily visual timetable or special calendar for this
  • Ask them to explain a process or sequence of events to a peer, but keep this relevant or in context. For example, ask them to talk through a science experiment in the same lesson
  • Use sequencing pictures as practice; start with real life sequencing, such as how to make a sandwich, and move on to using imagination
  • Take pictures of things as they happen and refer back to them afterwards. This will be particularly helpful when they have to put together a written account of an event
  • Make structured visual frames (such as narrative grids, spider diagrams, essay plans, story mountains) to help them structure and organise their thoughts
  • Encourage the use of a voice recorder if the young person finds it easier to give an oral account. This can be replayed and notes can be made at a speed that’s suitable for them without forgetting the points they want to include
  • Encourage your child to tell you what they’re doing as they’re doing it (e.g. washing their hands or hanging their coat up); help them with language if they get stuck

Help with narrative skills

Many of the above strategies can also be used to encourage narrative skills. Additionally, you might want to:

  • Use visuals to help your child structure their narrative e.g. ‘wh’ question words such as Who is in the story? Where did it happen? What happened? What happened next? When did it happen? Why did they do that?
  • Using narrative grids, spider diagrams and story mountains can help children structure and organise their thoughts
  • Remember that children develop their understanding of question words at different ages
  • When using sequencing pictures, write down key words in each picture that your child identifies, e.g. ‘man’, ‘bike’ and ‘riding’, or circle the key information in the picture; you can use these to help your child make up a sentence for each picture
  • Start a project and, when finished, ask your child to talk through what they’ve done; help them structure this with words such as ‘first’, ‘next’, ‘then’ and ‘finally’
  • Use a notebook and ask your child to draw two or three pictures for something they’ve done during the day or at the weekend; share this between home and school and encourage your child to tell you what they’ve done when referring to the pictures
  • Older children might find it easier to use equipment or software to record a spoken account; this can then be replayed so children can take notes at a more appropriate speed without forgetting the points they want to include
  • Make notes or take photos of steps in a task (e.g. in a science experiment) as they happen to help you when you have to write it up
  • Explore other ways to make notes or keep records, e.g. by using voice recordings on your phone or computer
  • Have a calendar on the wall at home to write important things on and help you remember important things that have happened
  • Make a picture or video diary that can help you tell your friends about what you’ve been up to

If you’ve tried all of these techniques and you’re still not seeing any improvement after four months, please speak to your GP or health visitor.

Our team run online workshops on early language development. They are designed for parents and carers and those working within early years settings. We have three training sessions available on different topics to equip you with everyday strategies to support your child, aged up to five. Find out more information and how to register here.