‘A story a day’: enhancing story coherence and use of complex sentence structures through an oral language intervention

Based on evidence on the role of implicit learning in language development, this study aims to examine whether simple exposure to and practice with story structure elements and specific sentence structures would enhance the quality of children’s narratives and their use of complex sentences. We further ask which child- and home- level variables might influence children’s performance. We carried out a 10-session oral language intervention in Kannada, an agglutinating Indian language, with 14 groups of 5- and 6-year-old multilingual children in South India. The intervention comprised a story reading phase followed by a questioning activity. All stories were adapted from the creative commons to include the same story elements (e.g., initiating event, problem, resolution) with these appearing in the same order. Stories were also rich in complex sentence structures, i.e., adverbial temporal clauses. The questions that followed story reading targeted either story elements or complex sentence structures and were presented across groups following a Latin square design. Children’s oral language was assessed pre-intervention and thrice more: mid-way through the intervention, immediately after the intervention, and approximately a month after the intervention. A story retelling task was used, and the children’s productions were analysed for the story elements and complex sentence structures. Our first analyses focusing on story elements show a significant improvement in their use immediately after the intervention and the effect is also significant a month later. We further found that child- and not home-level factors explain children’s performance.

Athina Ntalli is a postdoctoral researcher working for the TalkTogether project at the Department of Education, University of Oxford. She has obtained a BA in Greek Philology from the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki (Greece), a MA in Linguistics from the Radboud University Nijmegen (Netherlands), and a PhD in Theoretical and Applied Linguistics from the University of Cambridge (UK). Her research interests are in child (second, bilingual, multilingual) language acquisition and the linguistic and contextual factors that affect it. She is also interested in language education and especially in classroom interventions to support oral language development.

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