By Liesl Wenzke Hartmann, MA, CCC-SLP
I recently attended the Social Thinking Provider’s Conference hosted by Michelle Garcia Winner and came away energized and excited about my work and the new tools I got to add to my therapeutic tool box. I thought I would share about one in particular that I am finding to be especially helpful for my students.
Story Grammar Marker, also known as Braidy the StoryBraid, is a teaching method for narrative language that was dreamed up by an SLP from the East Coast –Maryellen Rooney Moreau. It’s a technique for helping children learn to tell and write stories and can be adapted for kids in preschool all the way up to high school.
I’ve always known that narrative language was a struggle for many of my students but until this workshop, I hadn’t fully understood the scope of how important and relevant it is. During the workshop, my mind started whirring along, taking me back to all the times my students have come into their sessions and with excitement in their voice trying to share an experience they’d had last summer, last weekend, last night or just 5 minutes ago, but could not get the full story organized and out of their mouths. With detective work, fill-ins from parents and carefully crafted questions, I’ve often heard the full story eventually, but have never had a clear method for how to help my kids really organize their story and express it fully and independently. I started also thinking about how story telling is such a huge part of my relationships with my friends and colleagues, how I feel closer to those who can tell a good story, how I learn so much about others in my lives by the stories they share, and again the gravity of personal narrative language began to sink in.
The technique works like this: A braid of yarn signifies the Gestalt or big picture of the story. Visual markers hang off the braid to represent the major components of a story: the characters, setting, “kick-off” event, feelings, plan, actions, “tie-up” and subsequent feelings. This is by far the clearest representation of a story that I’ve come across. What’s more, MaryEllen explained so beautifully that the setting not only includes the “where” of the story, but what the character was expecting to happen. She explained that many stories happen like this: A character is having an expected day or a “ho-hum” day as she cleverly describes and “all of a sudden…” the “kick-off” event happens (something unexpected). Then the critical thinking part or “triangle” of the story happens. The character(s) will inevitably have feelings about that unexpected “kick-off” event and will then need to make a plan to deal with what just happened.
A colleague of MaryEllen’s spoke the next day at the conference and shared how she’s been using this work to help kids work through difficult situations at her school. She uses the braid to help the child calm down, get regulated and explain what happened to get them so upset. The child and therapist can then problem solve, finish the “story” in a new way, and then take the actions to remedy the situation – brilliant!
I’m really enjoying this new tool – I’m seeing that my students are getting it. They are so drawn to the braid tactilely and I can see the light in their eyes when they realize that there’s a visual cue there for all the questions they get peppered with when trying to tell a story. It really helps them hold language in their hands – instead of an invisible swoosh of words in the wind, flying up and around everyone’s heads. There’s nothing “ho-hum” about this technique!
You can learn more about this awesome teaching tool on the MindWing website.