Understanding narrative video
Duration: 3 minutes 51 seconds
Girl – [rushes into shot, holding a hand to her head] Help! It's drawn blood!
Man – What has?
Girl – [points to the sky] Out there!
Man – Where?
Girl – It flew down.
Man – What flew down? You're not making any sense.
Girl – Why not?
Man – Because you haven't told me what's happened in a way that I can understand. Your thoughts aren't organized and I can't make sense of them.
Girl – How can I make you understand?
Man – Why don't you tell me what's happened in a narrative form.
Girl – Er, what's a narrative?
Man – Narrative is the way we organize thoughts and make sense of things that happen to us or to other people.
Girl – Can you help me turn this into a narrative?
Man – Sure. Why don't you tell me where you were when this happened?
Girl – I was in the park.
Man – Okay, so the narrative takes place in the park. Got it. What were you doing in the park?
Girl – I was skipping with a skipping rope under the big gum tree.
Man – Okay, what happened next?
Girl – Something hit me on the head, I was bleeding. It really hurt.
Man – And how did you feel?
Girl – I freaked out, I was in such a shock. I didn't know what hit me.
Man – And did you hear anything before you were hit?
Girl – I heard a swooshing, whooshing, flapping sound. Then a squawk and a smack. Something hit my skull!
Man – Interesting. So you were in the park skipping with a rope under the big gum tree. Then you heard a swooshing, whooshing, flapping sound. And smack! Something hit you on the head, but we don't know what.
Girl – That's right!
Man – It hurt so much that you clutched your head and you felt shocked because you didn't know what had hit you. I wonder what it was. When did this happen?
Girl – At lunchtime.
Man – Today at lunch. What's special about today? Well, it's spring. You were under a tree when you heard a flapping sound. Oh, I know! You must have been pecked by a magpie. It's spring which means it's nesting season for magpies. They often swoop unsuspecting humans who they think are a threat to their babies. There must be a magpie nest in the tree you were skipping underneath.
Girl – Wow, it all makes sense now.
Man – Because you've organized your thoughts in a narrative form. You've made a story! If it's spring, someone else might get swooped by a magpie. We should put this narrative in the school magazine.
Girl – But don't narratives usually have a meaning or a moral?
Man – Yes.
Girl – So I guess the moral of my narrative is, don't forget to wear your zip tie hat during magpie season.
Man – Excellent. This is good inspiration for my next comic. If it hadn't been a magpie that hit you, I wonder what it could've been?
Man – Hmm...
End of transcript
Example learning sequences that teach narrative
The English curriuclum team produced two week units of work on narrative for Early Stage 1 to Stage 3.
The resources include a:
- teacher guide
- student digital doucment
- student workbook.
Narrative professional learning video
Audience: Stage 3 teachers
Duration: 21 minutes 46 seconds
Authentically apply the concept of narrative to teaching and learning experiences through exploring quality texts.
Welcome to professional learning about the English textual concept: narrative. This professional learning meets standard 6.2.2, 'participate in learning to update knowledge and practice targeted professional needs and school and or system priorities.' Your understanding of the concept of narrative and the two supporting concepts will be developed through the exploration of the example texts that can be used in the Stage 3 classroom and appropriate teaching and learning activities and resources.
You may register this professional learning with NESA as 'teacher identified professional learning.' The essential resources for any planning of teaching and learning through the English textual concepts and learning processes are the English K-10 syllabus which can be downloaded from the NESA website, the English textual concepts and learning processes sometimes referred to as the 'grey book' and the English textual concepts and learning processes related syllabus content booklet, in this professional learning, Stage 3. These English textual concepts can be downloaded from the English textual concepts website. The digital links for all resources mentioned in this professional learning presentation can be accessed through the attached word document.
When exploring the concept narrative, a great place to start is to watch this video which can be found on the Department of education's website or by using the link on the attached word document. It will provide you with a definition of narrative, along with examples. It is one of 15 videos that are engaging and clear, designed for teacher and also student reference. These videos were created with the NSW Teachers Association and The School Magazine. You may like to pause this presentation at this point and watch this video.
Narrative is fundamental to thinking. When we think, we think in narrative form. Narrative can refer to a story itself or to the conventions by which we communicate and understand it. These conventions are the way we construct a world that sets up and depends on expectations of human behaviour to amplify it. They include the selection and organisation of actions and events into a plot and a suite of individualised or stock characters to carry the plot forward.
A narrative is usually structured in such a way as to invite responder involvement through recounting challenges of characters attitudes towards them and moving towards resolution. Narrative is part of everyday communication. To convey any message, be it political for example, an annual budget, commercial for example, a fashion collection, or institutional for example, public health warnings, in these messages the elements of narrative may not be obvious and are inferred through personal identification with the situation.
Why is it important? It is innately human to tell stories as this is the way we organise and shape life experience. We use narrative to connect people to information, values and ideas. Through narrative we can explore human actions, interactions motivations and reactions. This slide shows the narrative progressions from early Stage 1 to Stage 3. Having a look at each progression really helps to see where the students are headed and where they have come from. This can help shape your pre-assessment, as well as provide you with a vocabulary base to build upon. Referring to the concept progression for Stage 4 is also useful, so you know where your students are heading towards.
Whether you have a print copy of the English textual concepts and learning processes grey book or if you are using the online version, you may like to pause the video here to read through these statements.
Understanding the Stage 3 landscape begins with understanding that narrative is a foundational concept. Children are immersed in narrative from the moment they can communicate. We all tell narratives informally for example, when relaying a story to a colleague about an incident, when listening to a small child explain their totally justifiable reactions to an event - this is narrative. Ads on TV or in print, the riffs of a song, they're narratives. We create them and respond to them all the time, it's how we communicate.
As a side note, if children are only exposed to functional language, for example 'come and eat your dinner, put your shoes away,' these are all very necessary and occur routinely, but if we don't engage children in extended conversations using narrative, we're denying them the opportunity to extend vocabulary, to experiment with sentence structure and length and more complex sophisticated concepts about themselves and their lives and the people and animals in it.
Narratives don't exist without characters or setting. Character is another English textual concept that is intrinsically linked. Narratives have a 'problem' and this will be related to what the character wants, even if the problem is external, for example, a flood - the character wants to escape the flood - narrative may have multiple complications, but there is always some complications, some climax or crisis and then the resolution. It may be a bad, sad or mad resolution, but a resolution exists. Characters do or don't get what they want and often there is a coda, a lesson to be learnt through the narrative, such as; we need to prepare for emergencies better, don't take everything on face value.
When drilling down into the concept of narrative, we look at the way we communicate analytically and critically. In the Stage 3 landscape students are developing their knowledge, skills and understanding about how they interpret specific textual detail, to understand and appreciate narrative voice and structures. We know we want our students to be critical, creative, interpretive and imaginative as they read and view text and as they respond to and compose texts.
As with all units of work, begin with the syllabus. An outcome for Stage 3 falls under Objective A: communicate through speaking, listening, reading, writing, viewing and representing. Here is one example of a syllabus content dot point that comes under 'respond to and compose text' that works towards achieving the outcome.
Using the English textual concepts and learning processes grey book, you can unpack the concept progressions to create driving questions for your unit of work. This slide shows the Stage 3 progressions for narrative. Students understand there are conventions of the narrative, form that combine to involve responders in the story. Using the terminology from the dot points from the Stage 3 statements form the focus how and why questions.
For example, how does narrative engage responders through the use of recognisable characters, events and places? How does skilful plot development engage the reader? Why does mood and atmosphere engage a reader? How are narrative conventions adapted to different modes and media?
Here is where the English textual concepts and learning processes sit within the teaching and learning cycle. The 'understanding, applying and assessing' structure guides our practice, as well as the way we design the supporting teaching and learning materials. Effective teaching and learning occurs when conceptual knowledge, texts, syllabus outcomes and assessment align to challenge and extend what students already know. When planning teaching and learning activities for the narrative concept, bear in mind that Stage 3 students are very capable of learning about different English narrative structures. Traditionally we think of novels as the best way to illustrate a narrative, however other texts lend themselves to dive into narrative. Examples of this will be on the following slides.
Some narrative texts may follow a linear path - the narrative is told in order. It starts at the beginning and progresses to the end. It's often told in present or past tense, but there are other narrative structures to explore. These include; stream of consciousness or flashbacks. These usually do not pay attention to time or travel conventions, it's non-linear. There are circular narratives; they conclude where they began but the characters have changed over the course of the narrative. There are parallel, or frame structures. A parallel story is two stories told simultaneously to add layers of meaning, two distinctly different but related story lines. A frame structure has many little stories within the frame of a larger story, think of your typical sitcom.
Meaning is deepened or explored when analysed alongside the larger narrative. The Ant Explorer is a poem by C.J. Dennis, published in 1921. It begins as follows: 'Once a little sugar ant made up his mind to roam, to fare away, far away, far away from home. He had eaten all his breakfast and he had his ma's consent, to see what he should chance to see and here's the way he went. Up and down a fern frond, round and round a stone, down a gloomy gully, where he loathed to be alone. Up a mighty mountain range seven inches high, through a fearful forest grass that nearly hid the sky...'
The little sugar ant is lonely and exhausted and so decides to turn around and go home and he travels the same path, but he is a changed little sugar ant. The Ant Explorer was selected here as it clearly represents the mentor concept narrative. Through the following sample activities, students learn about the narrative concept using The Ant Explorer text. The activities will also demonstrate how you can investigate supporting concepts within the same text, in this case, Point of view and Connotation imagery and symbol.
Notice how Code and convention runs across, because an understanding of the code and convention of a text is vital to communicating how meaning is made and is communicated. There are many things to explore in this Ant Explorer text, apart from the literary value. The cadence, the rhyming rhythm of the poetic structure, adds to the success. The code and convention in this instance refers to the form of the text – a poem.
When exploring the mentor concept narrative, students will develop an understanding of the circular structure of this particular narrative, it concludes where it began but the ant has changed over the course of the narrative. Students can explore the ant as a character - he wants to go exploring, see the world. Can we relate to the ant? How? Look at the setting - it's a familiar landscape. What's the significance of this? It's relatable. Look at the complication - he was lonely and the journey was difficult. What was the resolution? He turned around and went back home. How has he changed? He's tired and weary from the experience, but is that all? Does he have a new appreciation of home and all it represents?
Ask students to identify a moment in their lives where they changed. A good example could be when they first went to school. Describe a journey from the school gate that returns there. Over the course of the journey, students identify key points, either physical or eventful, that stood out. For example, eating their lunch at school with their friends for the first time, sitting on the school mat in the classroom, using scissors for the first time. Students can brainstorm a multitude of ideas and then use literary devices such as alliteration and hyperbole to describe their journey. It doesn't need to rhyme.
There are also many activities which can explore the supporting textual concepts. The form of the poem refers to the physical structure of the poem - the length of the lines, the rhythm and rhyme, the repetition. We can hear rhyme in this poem, which is cadence. This is also known as an a/b structure of rhyme: roam/home, sky/high, tread/bed. The use of assonance, 'up and down a fern frond, round and round a stone, down a gloomy gully where he loathed to be alone', gives the rhythm and sing-song type of cadence. This is the code and convention of the text. Alliteration is also used to great effect, 'bracken bridge bending in the moss...to see what he should chance to see...gloomy gully...'this could all be a week's worth of learning!
The author designs the Point of view to perceive the character as small in stature, but the ant's point of view of his world is gigantic and treacherous. The 'fearful forest grass that nearly hid the sky', here C.J. Dennis uses hyperbole to exaggerate the ordinary grass to portray a deep adventure. When considering the grass from the point of view of the ant, a simple journey around a rock, across a leaf, through some grass and over a pile of dirt is suddenly a mountain range ,a fearful forest etcetera.
The activities for students here could be a, 'what if?' short response. Students could list ten items they would find in their backyard or apartment. It could start with 'what if I was an ant?' This introduces students to a point of view activity here, as the composers they privilege the ant's point of view over a human's focused representation.
When you have read the lyrical poem in its entirety, a longer activity with the whole class could be designed, what would be the equivalent for us? What would be the equivalent for a baby? Why does our view of the world change as we get older or bigger do we change the way we see things as we get older or bigger? Why? Is it the journey that changes us or the feelings that come with that journey? What journey have they taken that has changed them? It's not just a physical journey, but an emotional one.
Another great text to explore narrative is the short story, The Truth about Possums by James Maloney in the Kids 19 anthology. The narrator, a young boy, starts out describing noises in the ceiling and at the end, describes the return of the noises in the ceiling. The family home is also home to a possum. The family are all affected by the events that unfold over the course of the story. The story is full of humour.
Humour is actually a sophisticated construct. It takes a sophisticated understanding of nuance, timing and character to understand humour and so humorous, fun pieces should not be discounted as less worthy to use in the classroom. Humour is also difficult to write. With this text in addition to the mentor concept narrative, point of view and genre are two supporting concepts to be explored.
The narrative structure of the Truth about Possums also has a circular component and the dad joke it opens with: 'My dad has a standard answer, if anyone asks him whether he likes animals, he starts up enthusiastically, 'Yes I love animals, they taste great,' and 'so many cats, so few recipes.' The father no longer thinks it's funny when he can't free the house of the possum and when he asks a friend for advice, he is offered a recipe for possum stew - this is where it starts and finishes.
Characters as we know, are vital components of the narrative and in this case we have the narrator, a mum, dad, brother and possum. The mum, whilst the deliverer of deadpan one-liners, is flat - she doesn't change. The brother and the possum are also flat characters but the narrator and the father are changed by the events.
This makes the story interesting – what do the characters want? Mum and dad to get the possum, dad to look like a hero, the narrator to get the possum out of the ceiling above the bed, and to get dad to acknowledge that mum does know best. Even the possum has a want - he wants to be in the ceiling and not caught!
The setting is related to the genre. The complication is the possum disrupting everyone's sleep. The resolution, albeit temporarily, is Dad eventually takes the possum a few kilometres from the house and releases it...however another problem is now apparent - possums are territorial and it returns.
The possum demonstrates a circulatory narrative structure too by returning back to its home. What is the coda? What do they learn? Animals, like humans, have a strong sense of home. Why is home important? They, like humans, like routine. Parents are not infallible. Dad is a funny but flawed character. The genre is an Australian setting. The possum, the reference to the tin roof, 'our house has an iron roof, you see when it rains on summer nights, I lie in bed listening to the heavy drops drumming on the corrugated sheets.'
The reference to Possum Magic by Mem Fox, 'What do possums eat? Vegemite sandwiches,' said my little brother, 'and they like lamingtons too,' he added, 'in case we're out of vegemite. It was in that book mum read to me a hundred times you know the one.'
Point of view is a first-person narrative. This allows the reader to be inside the mind of the protagonist and make a personal connection. Two assessment options are briefly listed here. Consider co-developing success criteria with your students to scaffold their compositions. When selecting text, remember that a text that is used in the Early Stage 1 or Stage 1 classroom can most likely be used in a Stage 2 Stage 3 classroom as well, however the same cannot be assumed the other way. A text recommended for Stage 3 is unlikely to be a good fit for Early Stage 1.
It is also important to remember that a whole text doesn't need to be read every time. A chapter or a paragraph may be a perfect illustration of narrative. Have a clear purpose in mind when choosing a text. These texts are appropriate for exploring various aspects of narrative for Stage 3. This is not a definitive list by any stretch, and as we know a text should serve multiple concepts. A shared document for narrative text suggestions has been created, feel free to contribute to the list.
Please do not hesitate to email the English team if you require further support. We also love to hear about your trials and adaptations and we love to celebrate successes. So try some of these ideas with your class and let us know how your students respond.
[end of transcript]
Related links from the video
Download the document, Narrative – Stage 3 professional learning recording links (DOCX 22KB), for access to links mentioned in the video.
English K-10 Syllabus © 2012 Copyright NSW Education Standards Authority (NESA) for and on behalf of the Crown in right of the State of New South Wales.
English Textual Concepts and Learning Processes, and Related Syllabus Content © State of New South Wales, Department of Education, 2017 Learning and Teaching Directorate