Telling stories to young children: Developing school-register skills beyond the here-and-now

Yahya Erramdani, Mohammadi Laghzaoui

Tilburg University, Netherlands, The


The present paper reports on part of a longitudinal study on the acquisition and learning of school register at home and at school. School register is used in more cognitively complex demanding situations, and thus requiring different language skills than informal daily conversations (Halliday 1994, Schleppegrell 2004). One of the characteristics of school register is the high degree of abstractness, the subject matter of this paper.

The study investigates how mothers and teachers differ with respect to performing the activity of storytelling from a picture book, and more specifically how far they manage to move from the concrete context of the book to an abstract context beyond it. Degree of abstractness as measured in this study follows the categorization of Blank et al. (1978), distinguishing between 4 levels, ranging from the basic levels of matching and selection to re-ordering and reasoning as higher levels, by going beyond the concrete context of the activity. The target group of the study is 10 Moroccan mothers and 10 first grade primary school teachers in the Netherlands, performing the task to the same children, aged around 4. Mothers spoke Berber during the task, and teachers spoke Dutch.

The results show that the mothers were acting at the basic level of matching, by naming objects or describing activities. They made little use of selective strategy by stating colour names, numbers or other attributes of the objects, persons or events. At an individual level, a pair of mothers had recourse sporadically to higher abstract levels of re-ordering and reasoning, by making associations with objects or events beyond the book story. Teachers were performing on all levels of abstractness. Moving from one level to another took place gradually. Opening a new event was done at the basic level of matching by introducing the event, followed by describing its characteristics (selective level). Moving out of the context of the book was attested when asking children for the meaning of words (re-ordering), or encouraging them to make predictions about what would be/ could happen (reasoning) for instance. The two groups differed also in their reading strategies; while the teachers were engaging in a dialog, mothers were leading mostly a monolog, leaving the child with a passive role.

In the course of the presentation, we will elaborate on the results, providing more details on the degree of abstractness during the story telling and book reading activity, the strategies followed by each group, as well as the reactions of the children. The overall discussion of the results will bear on the contribution of presenting the children with a high degree of abstractness to their success in learning the school register.


Blank, M., Rose, S.& Berlin, L. (1978). The Language of Learning: the preschool years. New york: Grune& Stratton.

Halliday, M.A.K. (1994). An introduction to functional grammar (Second edition). London: Edward Arnold.

Schleppegrell, M. (2004). The language of schooling. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: Benjamins.

Session: Paper session
Bilingual Education 3
Thursday, April 3, 2008, 15:45-17:15
room: 08