January 20, 2014

SKILL Program for Teaching Story Grammar Elements

an overview of the SKILL program for teaching story grammar and story retell

Last week I had the great privilege of hearing Sandi Gillam speak about her SKILL program. Sandi works at Utah State University and has been conducting tons of research to improve narrative skills in children. Through her work and research, she has developed the SKILL (Supporting Knowledge in Language and Literacy) program. It was so inspiring to hear Sandi speak! Teaching story grammar elements was not something that was included in my graduate program coursework, but narrative skills are highly emphasized in Iowa, so I'm very grateful to my employer for bringing in Ms. Gillam to speak with our SLPs for a couple days. I wanted to write a blog post or two about the information I learned as a way to help me summarize and sort through all the great information. Today's post will focus on the importance of narrative language skills and an overview of the SKILL program.



The ability to give accounts of real or imagined events is a critical skill for children to develop as they grow. Narration, or storytelling, has a rich history in many cultures, and has ties to classroom instruction, early literacy, and the development of conversational discourse. Developing narrative skills allows children the ability to express complex ideas, interact socially with their peers by explaining things they've experienced, and it's a skill clearly stated as a required skill in the Reading and Speaking/Listening Common Core State Standards from Kindergarten on! This is a life skill we're talking about.

It's especially crucial to address these skills in children with language impairments. These children often don't get the gist of what is being said, have difficulties inferring, aren't actively engaged in comprehension, and may have poor vocabulary or semantic skills. Addressing narrative skills allows the SLP/teacher to address multiple goals: story comprehension, conversational discourse, vocabulary, semantics, inferencing - it's kind of an all-in-one package to improve multiple goal areas!


The SKILL program is one resource for teaching story grammar elements and improving narrative language. The program consists of three phases:

PHASE 1: Teaching Story Grammar Elements - Character, Setting, Take-off, Feelings, Plan, Action, Complication, Landing, Wrap-up

- The use of scripts for teaching the various elements helps you develop a systematic instructional routine and become more efficient with your teaching (students can focus on the content rather than the task).
- Icons are included for each story grammar element and are used consistently throughout the program.
- Various teaching strategies include co-telling, bingo, parallel story development/retelling practice through the use of storyboards.

PHASE 2: Moving from Simple Stories to Elaborate Stories

- Students are taught to add dialogue to their stories (which assists in increasing linguistic complexity).
- The addition of Complications to stories helps make them more complex.
- Lessons in adding adverbs to help elaborate on Action

PHASE 3: Becoming Independent Storytellers

- Students move from creating stories based on sequential pictures, to single-picture scenes.
- Self-scoring rubric gives students independence by internalizing the story grammar elements and moves them away from using the icons.

Each phase of the program includes an exit checklist of tasks a student must be able to perform before moving on to the next phase. By administering exit tasks, any areas of weakness are exposed and teaching suggestions are provided to address those areas.

I hope you'll consider adding the SKILL program to your teaching repertoire. It is designed to be used by speech-language pathologists, classroom teachers, special educators, and ELL specialists.

Stay tuned later this week for more information about instructional strategies for teaching story grammar elements!

Abby is overwhelmed by the insane amount of useful knowledge she learned from Sandi Gillam. Who is the best speaker you've heard during professional development opportunities?


  1. It would be a great factor for those people who wanted to enhance their skill when it comes to story. At least, they can use this as their guidance.

  2. Have you ever heard to Story Grammar Marker?