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Encouraging narratives in preschoolers: an intervention study

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 February 1999

Memorial University of Newfoundland
Memorial University of Newfoundland
University of Massachusetts at Lowell


Twenty economically disadvantaged preschoolers (mean age 3;7) were randomly assigned to an intervention or a control group, and their mothers' styles of eliciting narratives from their children were assessed before and after intervention. Mothers of intervention children were encouraged to spend more time in narrative conversation, ask more open-ended and context-eliciting questions, and encourage longer narratives through back-channel responses. Children's narrative and vocabulary skills were assessed before and after the year-long intervention and 14 children participated in a follow-up assessment a year later. Narrative measures included the number and length of narratives as well as how decontextualized and informative they were. Intervention children showed significant vocabulary improvement immediately after intervention terminated, and a year later they showed overall improvements in narrative skill. In particular, intervention children produced more context-setting descriptions about where and especially when the described events took place. Such decontextualized language has been emphasized as important for literacy acquisition.

Research Article
© 1999 Cambridge University Press

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This paper describes an intervention study that was conducted by Beulah Jesso for her master's thesis. We would like to extend our thanks to Kim Froude who analysed the long-term follow-up data for her undergraduate Honour's thesis, and to Marleen Biggs, Tina Parsons and Gina Rideout who did the assessment interviews, and to thesis committee members F. Michael Rabinowitz and Mary Courage for all their contributions. Most of all we extend our thanks to the parents and children who willingly allowed us into their homes and were so cooperative. Partial support for this project came from Grant OGP0000513 (to C. Peterson) from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada. Additional funding came from the Memorial University Undergraduate Career Experience Program.