Narrative Text

Narrative is central to children’s learning. They use it as a tool to help them organise their ideas and to explore new ideas and experiences. Composing stories, whether told or written, involves a set of skills and authorial knowledge but is also an essential means for children to express themselves creatively and imaginatively.

The range of narrative that children will experience and create is very wide. Many powerful narratives are told using only images. ICT texts tell stories using interactive combinations of words, images and sounds. Narrative poems such as ballads The Highwayman tell stories and often include most of the generic features of narrative. Narrative texts can be fiction or non-fiction. A single text can include a range of text types, such as when a story is told with the addition of diary entries, letters or email texts.

Specific features and structures of some narrative types

Children write many different types of narrative through Key Stages 1 and 2. Although most types share a common purpose (to tell a story in some way) there is specific knowledge children need in order to write particular narrative text types. While there is often a lot of overlap (for example, between myths and legends) it is helpful to group types of narrative to support planning for range and progression. Each unit of work in the Primary Framework (fiction, narrative, plays and scripts) provides suggestions for teaching the writing of specific forms or features of narrative. For example: genre (traditional tales), structure (short stories with flashbacks and extended narrative), content (stories which raise issues and dilemmas), settings (stories with familiar settings, historical settings, imaginary worlds) and style (older literature, significant authors).

Features of traditional tales

Traditional or ‘folk’ tales include myths, legends, fables and fairy tales. Often originating in the oral tradition, examples exist in most cultures, providing a rich, culturally diverse resource for children’s reading and writing. Many of these stories served an original purpose of passing on traditional knowledge or sharing cultural beliefs.

They tend to have themes that deal with life’s important issues and their narrative structures are often based on a quest, a journey or a series of trials and forfeits. Characters usually represent the archetypical opposites of good and evil, hero and villain, strong and weak or wise and foolish.

The style of traditional stories usually retains links with their origins in oral storytelling: rich, evocative vocabulary, repetition and patterned language, and strong use of imagery. When written in a traditional style, they also use some archaic language forms and vocabulary. Many regional stories include localised vocabulary and dialect forms.

Different types of traditional tales tend to have some narrative features (purpose, characters, language, style, structure) of their own.


The essential purpose of narrative is to tell a story, but the detailed purpose may vary according to genre. For example, the purpose of a myth is often to explain a natural phenomenon and a legend is often intended to pass on cultural traditions or beliefs.

Link to:

Units by year group
Progression paper on narrative

Generic structure Language features Knowledge for the writer
The most common structure is:

  • an opening that establishes setting and introduces characters;
  • a complication and resulting events;
  • a resolution/ending.

Effective writers are not constrained by predictable narrative structure. Authors and storytellers often modify or adapt a generic structure, e.g. changing chronology by not telling the events in order (time shifts, flashbacks, backtracking). Children can add these less predictable narrative structures to their own writing repertoires.

Language features vary in different narrative genres.
Common features:

  • presented in spoken or written form;
  • may be augmented/supplemented/partly presented using images (such as illustrations) or interactive/multimedia elements (such as hypertext/images/video/audio);
  • told/written in first or third person (I, we, she, it, they);
  • told/written in past tense (sometimes in present tense);
  • chronological (plot or content have a chronology of events that happened in a particular order);
  • main participants are characters with recognisable qualities, often stereotypical and contrasting (hero/villain);
  • typical characters, settings and events are used in each genre;
  • connectives are widely used to move the narrative along and to affect the reader/listener:
    • to signal time (later that day, once);
    • to move the setting (meanwhile back at the cave, on the other side of the forest);
    • to surprise or create suspense (suddenly, without warning).
  • Decide on your intended style and impact.
  • Plan before writing/telling to organise chronology and ensure main events lead towards the ending.
  • Visualise the setting and main characters to help you describe a few key details.
  • Rehearse sentences while writing to assess their effectiveness and the way they work together.
  • Find some different ways of telling what characters think and feel, e.g. describe what they did or said.
  • Use some strategies to connect with the reader/listener, e.g. use repetition of the same phrase or the same language pattern; ask them a question or refer to the reader as ’you’. What on earth was happening? Who do you think it was?
  • Show how the main character has changed or moved on in some way at the end.
  • Read or listen to the whole text as if you are the reader/listener or try it out on someone else: check that it makes sense and change anything that could work better.







example :

The Purse of Gold

A beggar found a leather purse that someone had dropped in a market place. Opening it, he discovered that it contained 100 pieces of gold. Then he heard a merchant shouted, “A reward! A reaward to the one who find my leather purse!”

Being an honest man, the beggar came forward and handed the purse to the merchant saying, “Here is your purse. Will you keep your word to give a reward now?”\

“Reward?” scoffed the merchant greedily counting the amount of gold. “The purse I dropped had 200 pieces of gold in it. You’ve already stolen more than the reward I’ll give to you.! Go away or I’ll tell you to the police.”

“I’m an honest man,” said the beggar defiantly. “Let’s take this matter to the court!” In the court, the judge patiently listened to both sides of the story and said, “I believe you both. Justice is possible! Merchant, you stated that the purse you lost contained 200 pieces of gold. Well, that’s a considerable cost. But the purse the beggar found had only 100 pieces of gold. Therefore, it couldn’t be the one you lost.”

And, with that, the judge gave the purse and all the golds to the beggar.


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