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Journal of Reading Behavior

1986, Volume XVIII, No. 2



Lesley Mandel Morrow

Rutgers University, Graduate School of Education, New Brunswick, NJ 08903

The study sought to determine if frequent story retellings with structural
guidance could improve kindergarten children's use of structural elements in
dictations of original stories and increase the oral language complexity of the
stories. Treatments were administered to children once a week for eight weeks.
After a story was read, the control children (n = 44) drew a picture about it
and the experimental children (n = 38) retold the story individually to a
research assistant. Story dictation pre- and posttests were administered.
Analysis of covariance indicated significant improvement for the experimental
group in dictation of original stories and in oral language complexity. Retelling
proved to be an instructional strategy capable of improving children's dicta-
tions of original stories and oral language complexity within those stories.

One of the most important strengths children can have in the development
of literacy is their oral language (Stauffer, 1970; Wilson, 1981). Research has
illustrated that children who have been exposed to literature at an early age
through having stories read to them frequently demonstrate an interest in learning
to read, develop complex language patterns, and acquire a wealth of
background information (Bower, 1976; Chomsky, 1972; Cohen, 1968;
Durkin, 1966). In addition, active participation in literary experiences
enhances oral language, comprehension, and an awareness of structural
elements in a story (Blank & Sheldon, 1971; Bower, 1976).
As mentioned, active participation in literary experiences has had positive
effects on the development of various literacy skills. According to the model of

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136 Journal of Reading Beha vior

generative learning (Linden & Wittrock, 1981; Wittrock, 1974; Wittrock.,

1981), understanding prose takes place when the reader engages in the con-
struction of relationships with textual information. Story retelling is a post-
reading or listening recall in which children tell what they remember from their
reading or listening. Story retelling is a strategy that seems to utilize and
somewhat extend the generative learning model. It is a procedure that provides
the child with active participation in a literary experience through the use of
oral language. It requires the learner to relate the various parts of a story and
thus to integrate information.
Story retelling appears to have potential for skill development but it has
not been widely tested. Researchers have utilized story retelling most often as
an assessment tool in studies investigating developmental trends in compre-
hending stories (Mandler & Johnson, 1977; Stein & Glenn, 1979; Thorndyke,
1977). In the few studies that have been done using story retelling as a strategy
for skill development (Morrow, 1985; Gambrell, Pfeiffer, & Wilson, 1985;
Zimiles & Kuhns, 1976), positive results have been found in increased ability in
comprehension, language development, and in the inclusion of structural
elements in children's retold stories.
It is possible that the skills gained from retelling stories could transfer to
children's dictation or creation of original stories, one of the first experiences
in the preparation of story writing. The present investigation sought to deter-
mine if frequent practice and guidance in retelling stories, with an emphasis
upon structural elements in the stories, could improve children's dictation of
original stories specifically for inclusion of story structural elements and syn-
tactic complexity.

Sense of Story Structure and Comprehension Development

Several researchers have described story structures and grammars
(Mandler & Johnson, 1977; Rumelhart, 1975; Stein & Glenn, 1979; Thorndyke,
1977). Mandler and Johnson describe a schema for story as a set of expecta-
tions about the structure of the story. Based on the work of these researchers,
the following adaptation was used for this study: a well-formed story includes
a setting (time, place, and characters), a theme (an initiating event that causes
the main character to react and form a goal or face a problem), plot episodes
(events in which the main character attempts to attain the goal or solve the prob-
blem), and a resolution (the attainment of the goal or solving of the problem,
which may have long-term ramifications).
Descriptive studies support the notion that children demonstrate some
concept of story structure or a knowledge of story elements (Applebee, 1978;
Mandler & Johnson, 1977; Stein & Glenn, 1979; Thorndyke, 1977). Concept
of story is determined by the number of structural elements included in their

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Dictation of Original Story 137

retold stories. Age often determines the child's conceptual level of story
development. Children ages four to six generally include settings, initiating
events, and resolutions in their retold stories. Elementary grade children in-
clude elements incorporated by the younger children plus an increased number
of plot episodes and endings with long-range consequences. Younger children
tend to recall elements that contribute most directly to the theme, such as in-
itiating events which cause the main character to react and form a goal or face
a problem (McConaughy, 1980). Golden and Vukelich (1981) report that the
inclusion of structural elements within a story increases as grade level in-
creases. Temple, Nathan, and Burris (1982) found that young children include
identifiable elements of story structure in their writing, similar to their story
retellings. First graders tend to include settings, initiating events, and resolu-
tions. They leave out details, such as plot episodes in which many attempts are
made by the main character to attain a goal or solve a problem and endings
which include long-range consequences.
An awareness of story structure has a positive effect on the development
of various literacy skills. A sense of story structure helps a child know what to
expect in a story and what to include in a story (McConaughy, 1980; Sadow,
1982; Whaley, 1981a). Experiments in which children were trained in
awareness of story schemata through the identification and labeling of struc-
tural elements within stories resulted in significantly improved comprehension
(Bowman, 1981; Gordon & Braun, 1982; Spiegel & Whaley, 1980). Knowledge
of story structure apparently plays an important role in children's interpreta-
tion and construction of stories (Golden, 1984).
According to Bower (1976), young children who lack an awareness of
story structure tell stories with elements that are missing, out of sequential
order, and lacking cohesiveness. The knowledge of story structure helps
children to distinguish major from minor events and improves memory for
what has happened.
Pellegrini and Galda (1982) tested effects of varying modes of active in-
volvement in story reconstruction on comprehension. Role playing stories
significantly improved comprehension of story and the inclusion of more
structural elements in story retellings. According to these researchers, when
role playing stories, active involvement and peer interaction contributed to the
children's increased performance.
Brown (1975) found that children's story comprehension could be
facilitated by active involvement in the reconstruction of a story. According to
Brown, children can reconstruct stories by arranging pictures of the story in se-
quential order. When participating in this activity, children are building an in-
ternal representation of story.
While many of the studies discussed thus far were carried out among
elementary school children who could read and write, development of the con-

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138 Journal of Reading Behavior

cept of story for the purpose of improving the structure of their original stories
is an important concern for young children as well.

Retelling and Language Development

Research has indicated that involvement in many forms of story telling
has improved language growth. Blank and Sheldon (1971) found that the
development of syntactic complexity in the oral language of four to six year
olds and their semantic recall were both improved when the youngsters had the
opportunity to participate during a story reading by repeating sentences after
the reader. In a study of role playing with fourth and sixth graders, Stewig and
Young (1978) found significant growth in children's oral language on such
measures as verbal output, clause output, and T-unit output. Morrow (1985)
found that the T-unit length and syntactic complexity in children's story retellings
significantly improved as a result of guidance and practice in retelling stories.

Research in Retelling
Research dealing with verbal rehearsal is limited. Studies in this area,
however, have demonstrated improvement in memory and recall (Craik &
Watkins, 1973; Ornstein & Naus, 1978). The research discussed thus far has in-
cluded treatments that improve comprehension, sense of story structure, and
language. These treatments include characteristics similar to story retelling.
These lead one to expect positive results for children given practice in retelling.
Nevertheless, few studies can be found that used retelling as the indepen-
dent variable. A study by Morrow (1985a) indicated that frequent practice and
guidance in story retelling with an emphasis on the structural elements in a
story improved children's comprehension, increased the number of structural
elements included in their own retelling of stories, and enhanced the complexity
of their oral language. Two other studies that utilized story retelling as an in-
dependent variable (Gambrell, Pfeiffer, & Wilson, 1985; Zimiles & Kuhns,
1976) found that retelling improved comprehension.
Retelling stories has been suggested as an instructional technique capable
of facilitating the development of various literacy skills (Golden, 1984;
Whaley, 1981b). In spite of this, asking students to retell stories is not widely
practiced in classrooms. In surveys of nursery through third-grade classrooms
(Morrow, 1982; Morrow, 1985b), it was found that story retelling by children
was not at all common. Teachers viewed retelling as time-consuming and
difficult for children, even though it has been found to enhance certain literacy
skills. For story retelling to be included as a regular feature in the instructional

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Dictation of Original Story 139

program, research must be conducted to assess and demonstrate its educa-

tional values (Farrell & Nessel, 1982).
The purpose of the present study was to determine if frequent practice in
retelling stories, with guidance that focused on the structural framework of
those stories, could improve a child's ability to dictate an original story. More
specifically, the following questions were asked:
1. Do practice and guidance in retelling stories improve a child's ability to
dictate original stories by including more structural elements in the narrative?
2. Do practice and guidance in retelling stories increase the T-unit length
and syntactic complexity of children's oral language when they dictate original


A total of 82 children participated from 17 kindergarten classrooms all
located in different public schools. Children identified as having language
disabilities by their teachers were excluded from the study. Three boys and
three girls were randomly selected from every classroom. The six children from
each room were then randomly assigned, three to the experimental and three to
the control. At the end of the study, there were 82 children who had been
present for all the treatments and for whom complete testing data were
available, 38 in the experimental group and 44 in the control. The experimental
group included 21 girls and 17 boys, the control group 22 girls and 22 boys.
The study took place in the fall when the mean age of the children was 5.2.
According to school officials, socioeconomic levels of the children within
the districts ranged from lower middle class to upper middle class, and ability
level based on standardized test scores ranged from below average to above
Storybooks. The same eight picture storybooks were provided for all
classrooms participating in the study. Literature selections were based on the
following criteria. They were similar in length, with averages of 27.3 pages, 22
illustrations, and 880 words. All had well-developed story structures with
delineated characters, definite settings, clear themes represented in characters
faced with problems or goals, plot episodes that led to the attainment of the

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140 Journal of Reading Behavior

main characters' goals, and resolutions. All stories involved characters and
concepts familiar to kindergartners.1
Test for dictation of original stories. Children were asked to make up their
own original stories for which each child used the same five oak tag figures as
story motivators. For both the pre- and posttests, the figures included a child, an
animal, a means of transportation, a home of some type, and a fictional
character such as an elf. A different set of figures was used in the pretest and the
posttest. Children could use all or only some of the figures. The dictated stories
were taped, transcribed, and analyzed for inclusion of structural elements and
language complexity.

Treatment procedures. Seventeen student teachers enrolled in an early
childhood education program were assigned to the participating classrooms
and carried out the study. The student teachers who administered the
treatments attended two training sessions. At the first session they reviewed
guide-sheets describing the procedures for reading stories and for guiding
retellings of those stories. Students simulated the procedures with each other.
The second session involved practicing the treatment with children. All student
teachers were also observed once while administering treatments in their
The format for listening to stories was the same for the experimental and
the control children. Within a brief pre- and post-reading discussion format, a
story was read to the class during regular story time. Before the reading, the in-
vestigator said, "The title of the story I am going to read to you is (name the ti-
tle). This story is about (a boy, a dog, etc.)." During the uninterrupted
reading, pictures from the book were shown to the children. After reading the
story, the investigator asked, "Which part of the story did you like best?" The
investigator allowed two responses to be presented.
After the discussion, children in the control group were asked to draw a
picture about the story they had just heard. Children in the experimental group
were asked to retell the story on a one-to-one basis to the student teacher. The
children were asked to retell the story as if they were telling it to a friend who
had never heard it before. Each student teacher used the same story retelling
guide-sheet that provided directions for the instructional phase of the retelling.
The guide-sheet is shown in Figure 1. The intent of the guide-sheet was to prompt

Treatment book titles are available upon request from the author.

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Dictation of Original Story \ 41

the children, when necessary, to tell as much of the story as they could
remember. When prompts were given they were aimed towards highlighting
the structural elements in the story, for example, "What was (name the main
character) Jenny's problem in the story?" Guidance was also given to help with
sequential order. The only prompts employed were those listed in Figure 1.
The procedures for guidance in retelling were developed in a pilot study carried
out before the major investigation.
Pre- and posttest procedures. Research assistants, other than the student
teachers, administered the pre- and post-dictation of original stories. Those
dictations were elicited individually from the students during the first week of
the study, before treatments were inititated. In the eighth week of the study,
posttests were administered in the same manner as the pretests. The only
prompts employed were those listed in Figure 1. Each test was concluded when
the child indicated he or she had finished telling the story. The person ad-
ministering the tests did not know to which group or condition children had
been assigned.
Both pre- and posttest stories were tape recorded. Verbatim transcriptions
of the original story dictations provided the corpus of language for determining

1. Ask the child to retell the story using the following dialogue: "A little while
ago I read a story (Name the story). Would you retell the story as if you were
telling it to a friend who has never heard it before?"
2. The following prompts are to be used only when necessary.
A. If the child has difficulty beginning the story, suggest beginning with
"Once upon a time," or "Once there was . . ."
B. If the child stops retelling, encourage continuation by asking, "What
comes next?" or "Then what happened?"
C. If a child stops retelling and cannot continue with the prompts offered in
B, ask a question about the story that is relevant at the stopping point to
encourage continuation. For example, "What was Jenny's problem?"
3. When a child is unable to retell the story, or if his or her retelling lacks se-
quence and detail, prompt the retelling, step by step, with the following
A. "Once upon a time," or "once there was . . ."
B. "Who was the story about?"
C. "When did the story happen?" (Day, night, summer, winter?)
D. "Where did the story happen?"
E. "What was (Name the main character) Jenny's problem in the story?"
F. "How did she try to solve her problem? What did she do first/next?"
G. "How was the problem solved?"
H. "How did the story end?"

Figure 1. Directions for Guiding Retelling (Morrow, 1985)

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142 Journal of Reading Behavior

the structural elements included in the stories, T-unit length, and syntactic
Scoring procedures. Six research assistants, blind to the treatment of the
tests they were grading, evaluated the transcriptions of the original story dicta-
tions. Story dictations were analyzed for the inclusion of story structure
elements and oral language complexity.
When analyzing the transcriptions for story structure elements, evaluators
looked for the inclusion of setting, theme, plot episodes, resolution, and se-
quential order. The procedure for analyzing dictations was adapted from scoring
procedures of story structure discussed by Mandler and Johnson (1977),
Rumelhart (1975), Stein and Glenn (1979), andThorndyke (1977). The adapta-
tion was used.for the following reasons. Story grammars have been devised
from the analyses of written folk and fairy tales. In the present study, modern
children's literature was used for the treatment stories and analyses were done
on childrens' dictations of their original stories. Pilot analyses of stories dic-
tated by five- and six-year-old children indicated that existing descriptions of
story grammar procedure were complicated to use and in many cases not ap-
plicable to children's retellings. Therefore, the more general adaptation was
devised to deal with the data at hand. Accordingly, a simplified procedure
which could be easily utilized by teachers for evaluating dictations was
developed. Figure 2 provides this procedure.
In order to familiarize the evaluators with the scoring procedures, practice
sessions were held for scoring the dictations. First, the dictations were parsed
into four scoreable segments: setting, theme, plot episodes, and resolution.
Using the form shown in Figure 2, one point was awarded when children men-
tioned elements that fit within each of the subcategories of the four structural
units. For example, in the setting category, if the child mentioned a place
where the story happened, one point would be awarded. If elements were not
included in an original story dictation, no points were awarded. If the "gist" of
an element was represented, one half point was awarded. Pelligrini and Galda
(1982) and Thorndyke (1977) give credit for "gist" in scoring children's story
retelling, defining the "gist" of an element as partial recall. In the present story
dictations, "gist" was defined as an element mentioned but with only loose fit in
a category.
After the stories were analyzed for inclusion of structural elements, they
were evaluated for sequence. In scoring this area, each structural element in se-
quential order (setting, theme, plot episodes, resolution) received one point.
No points were received if elements were missing or out of order.
To adjust maximum raw scores to equal 10 in each category, raw scores
were placed over maximum scores and multiplied by 10. The sum of the five
categories evaluated'equals the total story dictation score.

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Dictation of Original Story 143

Child's Name Age Sex .

Room Pre-test Score Posttest Score _ _ _ _ _
(Place one point next to the element if the child includes it in the dictation, place a Vi
point if the "gist" is included, assign no points if not included. To adjust scores to equal
10 in each of the five main categories, place the total raw score over the maximum raw
score and multiply that by ten.)
1. Setting (maximum raw score 4)
A. The story starts with a beginning statement
B. One or more central characters emerges and assumes a main role
throughout the story
C. The time of the story is mentioned
D. The location of the story is mentioned
total adjusted score
2. Theme (maximum raw score 2)
A. A beginning initiating event occurs that causes the main character to
B. An event or series of events occur that lead the main character
toward solving the problem or reaching the goal of the story
total adjusted score
3. Plot Episodes (maximum raw score 2)
A. An event or series of events are mentioned that relate to the main
B. An event or series of events occur that lead the main character
toward solving the problem or reaching the goal of the story
total adjusted score
4. Resolution (maximum raw score 3)
A. The main character solves the problem or attains the goal
B. The story is ended with an ending statement
C. The ending carries long-range consequences
total adjusted score
5. Sequence (maximum raw score 4)
A. The four categories of story structure are presented in sequential
order (setting, theme, plot episodes, resolution). One point is given
for each one in order.
total adjusted score
6. Total Story Dictation
adjusted score
Figure 2. Evaluating Dictations of Original Stories

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144 Journal of Reading Behavior

To determine reliability, evaluators independently scored the same 12

story dictations. Mean correlation among evaluators was .93 for setting scores,
.88 for theme scores, .90 for plot episode scores, .90 for resolution scores, .86
for sequence scores, and .90 for total dictation scores.
The dictated originial stories from the pre- and posttests were evaluated
for two oral language measures: average length per Tunit, and syntactic com-
plexity. Hunt (1965) describes the Tunit as an independent clause with all of
its subordinate clauses attached. Thus, it may be equal to either a simple or a
complex sentence, but a compound sentence is by definition made up of two or
more Tunits. The transcribed story dictations were divided into Junks. Total
numbers of words per T unit in the pre- and posttests were recorded for
analysis. Length of T unit is considered a reliable measure of language com-
plexity based on developmental studies of oral language (Hunt, 1965; Morrow,
1978; O'Donnell, Griffin, & Norris, 1967).
The Botel, Dawkins, and Granowsky (BDG) (1972) formula of syntactic
complexity was also used to analyze pre- and posttest dictations. The BDG for-
mula which is based upon transformational grammar theory analyzes language
by identifying elements of syntax and assigning each one a weight. Weights for
elements in the formula were determined through the investigation of language
studies indicating the frequency of usage of structures in the language of
children and from experimental findings that indicated the difficulty children
have in processing specific syntactic structures. The weights of 0-, 1-, 2-, or 3-,
as shown in Figure 3, designate relative difficulty of each language element. To
find the syntactic complexity count for a group of sentences, the counts per ele-
ment within each sentence are totaled first. Then, the average of total sentence
counts is calculated to indicate the syntactic complexity for the corpus of
language those sentences comprise.
To determine reliability of these analyses, the research assistants trained in
the segmentation of language into T units were given five samples of unpunc-
tuated language obtained from original story transcriptions. They each in-
dependently segmented every sample into T units. Correlation among
evaluators on the number of T units segmented was .92. The same evaluators
analyzed 25 T units from the transcriptions and calculated a syntactic com-
plexity count according to the BDG procedure. Mean correlation among their
calculations was .90.

Data Analysis
An analysis of covariance was conducted for the total original story dicta-
tions. Treatment (experimental or control) was the primary independent
variable and school was also included as an independent variable resulting in a
two-way analysis of variance. The school variable was included to determine

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Dictation of Original Story 145

O-Count 1-Count 2-Count 3-Count

Structures Structures Structures Structures
1. Sentence Patterns 1. Sentence Patterns 1. Passive 1. Clause used
a. subj.-verb (adv.) a. Subj.-verb-indirect as a subject
b. subj.-verb-adj. obj.-obj. 2. Paired
c. subj.-be-complement b. subj.-verb-obj.- Conjunction 2. Absolute
(noun, adj., adv.) complement
d. subj.-verb-infinitive 3. Dependent
2. Noun Modifiers Clause
2. Simple Transformations a. adjective
a. interrogative b. possessives 4. Comparatives
b. exclamatory c. quantitative
c. imperative determiners 5. Participles (not
d. pre-determiners used in the adj.
3. Coordinate Clauses e. participle position)
Joined by and f. prepositional
phrase 6. Infinitives
4. Non-Sentence as Subjects
Expressions 3. Other Modifiers
a. adverbials 7. Appositives
b. modals
c. negatives 8. Conjunctive
d. set expressions Adverbs
e. infinitives
f. gerund used as
a subject

4. Coordinates
a. coordinate clause
joined by but, for,
so, or, yet
b. deletion in the
coordinate clause
c. paired coordinates

Figure 3. Summary of BDG Syntactic Complexity Count (Botel, Dawkins,

Granowsky, 1972)

whether differences among schools, due to teacher programs or children's

characteristics (other than their pretest performance), might interact with the
treatment conditions to influence outcomes.
The comparability of the experimental and control groups was
demonstrated by the similarity between them on the pretest means for the
dependent variables. The pretest treatment differences for story dictation and

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146 Journal of Reading Behavior

language complexity were nonsignificant. Pretest differences for schools,

however, were statistically significant (p < .05). The pretest on the total story
dictation served as the covariate in order to control for initial differences
among school samples in story dictation proficiency. Preliminary calculations
indicated that the assumptions embodied in the covariance model were
Analyses of covariance were also conducted for the two language out-
come measures: T-unit length and syntactic complexity. Treatment (ex-
perimental or control) and school served as the independent variables,
resulting in a two-way analysis of variance with the pretest measure as a


Story Structure
The posttest mean score for the experimental group on total story dicta-
tions was 23.02 {SD, 5.46) and for the control 19.75 (SD, 6.87). The analysis of
variance for the total story dictation scores on the posttests indicated that the
experimental group scored significantly better than the control, F(l, 61) =
9.54 (p < .01).
The main effect for school was significant, F{16, 61) = 5.62 (p < .05).
This means that school differences existed in improvement in story structure
for control and experimental groups combined, even with entry scores
covaried. Further analyses of school group means were undertaken in order to
see if these differences were systematic. The correlation between school gain
scores and performance on the pretest was low {r = 0.22) indicating that there
was little systematic relation between entry proficiency of students and how
much they gained. School differences might reflect other conditions such as
socioeconomic factors, the general quality of the instructional program, or the
quality of story reading prior to the treatment, none of which were measured
in this research.
The interaction between treatment and school was not significant. This in-
dicates that whatever conditions differed systematically between schools did
not interact with the treatment to influence outcomes.
Since a significant treatment effect occurred, post hoc analyses were
undertaken for each of the components of the total story dictation to see where
significant changes had occurred. Table 1 presents the posttest means and stan-
dard deviations for each of the component measures: setting, theme, plot
episodes, resolution, and sequence.

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Dictation of Original Story 147

When the categories of story structure were considered separately, the ex-
perimental group performed significantly better than the control group in the
areas of setting, F{1, 61) = 6.14 (p < .02), and plot episodes, F{\, 61) = 5.84
(p < .02). Results in all categories show a greater improvement between pre-
and posttests for the experimental group, though only two are statistically

Language Variables
Table 2 presents the means for each of the language dependent variables
on the pre- and posttests. Analysis showed a significantly greater T-unit length
for the experimental group over the control group, F\\, 61) = 5.89 (p < .05).
As in previous analyses, school differences were significant, F(16, 61) = 5.02
(p < .05), but interaction effects were not.
Analysis for the average syntactic complexity count did not demonstrate a
difference between experimental and control groups. Again there was a signifi-
cant main effect for school, F(16, 61) = 5.21 (p < .05). Examination of the
means for school groups suggests that the differences are not systematic.
Interaction effects were not significant.

Table 1
Posttest Means and Standard Deviations for Story Dictation
Story Dictation Experimental Control0
Analysis Mean SD Mean SD
Setting 5.39 1.54 4.69* 1.62
Theme 4.09 1.02 4.09 .22
Plot Episodes 4.36 1.28 3.38* .11
Resolution 4.34 2.11 3.72 .82
Sequence 4.84 1.81 3.87 .41
*p < .05 for difference of posttest means.
Maximum of 10 points could be received in each of the story dictation categories, and a max-
imum of 50 for total story dictation.
n = 38.
n = 44.

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148 Journal of Reading Beha vior

Table 2
Post test Means and Standard Deviations for Oral Language
Complexity Analysis
Language Complexity Experimental3 Control"
Analysis Mean SD Mean SD
Average length per
Tunit 5.94* 1.23 5.35 1.12
Syntactic Complexity
Count 1.1 .05 1.2 .06
*p < .05 for difference of posttest means.
n = 38.
n = 44.


The results of the study indicate that frequent practice and guidance in
story retelling had a positive effect on improving children's oral dictation of
original stories. This improvement was demonstrated by increased use of
structural elements and increased T-unit length in the language used in the
story dictations. These findings are consistent with other study results (Blank &
Sheldon, 1971; Pellegrini & Galda, 1982). Retelling appears to be a generative
learning strategy that has direct beneficial consequences on children's creation
of original stories through the opportunity to use and model oral language
from pieces of children's literature.
Several factors could account for the positive results. Guidance during the
retelling treatments emphasized structural elements in stories. This type of em-
phasis seemed to provide children with an improved awareness for some of
these elements, which they were then able to internalize and transfer into their
dictation of original stories. And, more generally, the retelling experience
allowed for active involvement and close supportive interactions with adults
that quite possibly reinforced expectations and performance among the
youngsters involved. According to Vygotsky (1962), learning occurs in a social
context through guided performance of emerging skills. The retelling ex-
perience described in this study utilized these conditions for learning.
While the experimental group improved significantly over the control
group in story dictation, post hoc analyses revealed that the inclusion of infor-
mation about setting and plot was responsible for the general improvement.
There were minor improvements in the areas of theme, resolution, and se-

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Dictation of Original Story 149

quence. Thus, it appears that guided story instruction can improve kindergart-
ners' skill in dictating stories by making them more aware of the setting and the
plot. However, guided story instruction may not be as effective in developing
theme, resolution, and sequence in kindergartners' dictations.
In one of the two analyses of oral language, the measurement of T-unit
length, the experimental group showed improvement over the control. This
finding supports the results of related studies concerning the improvement of
language through the medium of stories (Blank & Sheldon, 1971; Stewig &
Young, 1978). In a previous study, Morrow (1985a) found that story retelling
and comprehension scores also showed a positive relationship. It is possible
that a common factor is responsible for all such gains. Those demonstrated
improvements would apparently support the argument that retelling stories
not only can enhance awareness of structural elements within stories that leads
in turn to improved dictations of original stories, but also can improve ability
to retell stories generally, to comprehend stories, and to nurture growth in
language ability.
Although there were significant differences found between the experimen-
tal and control groups on T-unit length, the BDG formula for syntactic com-
plexity showed no difference between the groups. In this investigation, it
appears that the T-unit measure was more sensitive to the change that occurred
in the story dictation language than was the BDG formula. A previous study
by Morrow (1985) investigated the language development in children's story
retelling after eight retelling treatments. There was a significant improvement
in both 7"-unit length and syntactic complexity. Because of the different
findings among the language measures in this investigation and with others,
additional work in studying the syntactic complexity in dictation of original
stories is warranted.
In all analyses, there was a significant main effect for the school variable.
These differences occurred in spite of the covariation of pretest measures.
There was only a slight but nonsignificant tendency for able groups to show
more improvement on the dependent measures than less able groups.
More important for the purposes of this study, none of the interaction
effects between treatment and school was significant. Thus, it can be concluded
that no school conditions biased the results of the instructional treatment.
That is, the guided story instruction was generally more effective than the con-
trol in story retelling, particularly in the areas of setting and plot, and in
sentence complexity as measured by T units.
Interviews with teachers after the conclusion of the study revealed some
interesting anecdotal reports worth appending to the empirical results. While
the teachers involved felt before the study that most children did not know
how to engage in story retelling or dictation of original stories, the youngsters

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150 Journal of Reading Behavior

in the experimental group demonstrated an ability to approach those tasks at

the end of the study with a strategy for proceeding with confidence and with a
desire to do so. Further, during free-play periods, children in the experimental
groups participated in story telling more often than did children in the control
groups. They told stories to other children and initiated role playing based on
This study, along with related work (Gambrell, Pfeiffer, & Wilson, 1985;
Morrow, 1985a), offers empirical and anecdotal support for the educational
value of having children retell stories. Training and opportunities to retell
stories should not be ignored when so many skills are enhanced through their


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I thank the 17 teachers and their school districts that allowed the study to
be carried out in their classrooms. Appreciation is extended to the student
teachers who administered the treatments for the research. In addition,
gratitude is extended to the research assistants who helped to prepare the
materials, carry out testing, and analyze the data. I thank Dr. Jeffrey Smith
and Dr. Neil Weinstein for their help with the statistical analysis.

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