Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Who can use Story Impressions?

Story impressions can be used across grade levels and content areas. Story impressions are designed to increase student comprehension of reading materials and can be used in a variety of different classroom settings.

During my two week practicum I taught a grade 9 social studies class at Claremont Secondary School in Victoria, BC. The class was made up of 18 girls and 11 boys; there was one student in particular who had difficulty comprehending text, and two ESL students who could speak and understand English, but had limited practice in writing in English. During the two week practicum the students were being taught about the American Revolution; this would be a particularily interesting topic to have used with a story impression strategy. The classroom where I taught the social studies class had a very typical classroom set-up; the students were paired together to make up four rows down the classroom, and the teacher had a desk at the front by the white board and projector. Because this strategy is typically used as an individual strategy to start and coming together as a group after the students have finished their "guessed" stories, this classroom set-up would have suited this strategy particularly well. For other strategies that require more group work, this classroom may have had to have been moved around slightly to accomodate for the strategy.

What are Story Impressions?

Story impressions are pre-reading strategies that "arouses curiosity and allows students to anticipate what stories might be ahead" (Vacca, Vacca, & Begoray, 2005).  These strategies are designed for a number of purposes:
  • focusing students on the upcoming reading
  • helping students anticipate what they might be learning
  • increasing student motivation
  • allowing students to connect prior knowledge to upcoming material
  • helping students make connections to new material
  • increasing student comprehension of reading material
  • gives teachers an idea of where students are at with their knowledge; are there any gaps that need to be filled in?
This pre-reading strategy uses clue words associated with dates, places, characters, and major events in the story (the story impressions) to give readers general information about what the ystory will be able.  Prior to reading the story, students will use all the clue words in the same order as presented to them to write their own versions of the upcoming story; this strategy helps students to predict the events in the upcoming story.

The clue words not only offer a hint of what events occur in the story, but in the manner of which they occur.  Clue words can give students the impression of the tone of the story, how characters interact with eachother, and how major events may turn out.  These clue words, presented in chronological order, are known as the 'word chain'.

One of the social studies 9 prescribed learning outcomes (PLO) is that students will be able to plan, revise, and deliver formal oral and written presentations; this strategy, depending on how you format the presentation of students' stories, could help students prepare for an oral presentation for the class of their guessed stories.  You may also have students revise their original stories once they have read the text to a way in which they interpreted the story occuring.  Another PLO for social studies 9 is that students will be able to assess the reliability, currency, and objectivity of different interpretations of primary and secondary sources.  If you are using story impressions with a primary source, once students have completed their stories and then have read the actual text, you can discuss the bias that that text might have had, as well as discussing why and what information was represented during the story and what information might have been left out.  Having students analyse a text is essential in teaching them about critical thinking skills and how they can interpret different information by who is writing them.

Where and when are Story Impressions used?

Story impressions are typically used prior to a text reading or content unit. This strategy, as stated above, is used to activate prior knowledge and focus students on what they are about to read or learn about. Although this strategy is usually implemented before a reading, it is important to re-visit the students' 'guessed' stories after reading the text or completing the unit. This way students have a chance to discuss where their individual stories were similar or different to the actual story, and how this may have effected their overall impression of the story.

I would have introduced this story prior to discussing with the students what actually occured during the American Revolution. It would have been very interesting to see what students came up with for their predictions! This is also something that I would have re-visited throughout the unit. Having students reflect on their original predictions and either make changes or explain how they may have predicted the "correct" story helps students to make further connects with the material as well as view the events in a different context.

Why are Story Impressions used?

Story impressions are used to help increase students' comprehension of the text or unit. A study done by Denner, Mcginlfy, and Brown (1989) found that students who engaged in story impressions before reading a story were able to correctly answer significantly more comprehension questions after the story than the students who hasn't completed the pre-reading activity. The study also found that story impressions were found to not give away large amounts of story content in order to improve comprehension (Denner et al., 1989).

Using the story impressions strategy in my social studies 9 class may have helped students to understand the topic/unit at a more comprehensive level, particularily if I had used a primary source as the text.  Because of the nature of the American Revolution unit that I was teaching, having students really understand how the settlers of the Thirteen Colonies were feeling on a more intimate level would have made the rest of the information make a bit more sence to students.  This strategy fosters students creative thinking skills as well as having them use critical thinking skills to make sence of a word chain and connecting their prior knowledge to what they think may occur in the text.  By allowing the students to come up with their own guessed stories we can also help increase student motivation on the text afterwards; students want to know what actually happened and how close (or far) their guesses were to the real events!

How can Story Impressions be used?

Story impressions are used to help students predict what will happen in the story using clue words and phrases to guide them along creating their own "guessed versions" of the actual story.  When introducing this strategy to the class for the first time, I would used a very simple example from a story that all students would most likely know, such as Goldilocks and the Three Bears.  By providing a word chain that students are familiar with and then demonstrating it to the entire class, students will have a more functional idea of how story impressions work. 

Since I was teaching the American Revolution in my socials class, we discussed a lot about how the English settlers in the Thirteen Colonies may have felt about the imposing British Government; we discussed a number of factors that lead to the American Revolution and how these may have effected the settlers of the Thirteen Colonies prior to the revolution taking place.  Because a lot of the focus of this particular unit is on why the settlers were unhappy, this may have been an opportune place to use a story impression.  Based on the student's prior knowledge of British-American and French-British relations, I could have used a number of sorces (textbook, primary sources [journals], newspaper articles) and had students write stories about how they thought the American Revolution may have occured/turned out prior to introducing the topic.  It would have allowed students to critically think about what they already know about North America at the time, as well as created a focal point for the unit.

The benefit of using a strategy such as this in the social studies class that I was teaching, is that it works for every student in the classroom, even those that may be struggling with reading and writing.  The student I had that had difficulty with reading comprehension was at the level where reading one and two word phrases would have been simple enough that the student would have been able to succeed in this activity.  The student may have had to draw out their story rather than writing it down as a paragrap.  Also, the ESL students that struggled with writing could have chosen to draw their predictions and explain them orally.  Because this strategy is so versitile, it would have been easy to impliment and very effective in this particular class with the learning difficulties that were present.

Steps to take when introducing Story Impressions into the classroom (Vacca et al., 2005):
  1. Introduce the strategy.
  2. Use large newsprint, a transparency, or a chalkboard to show students the story chain.
  3. Read the clues together, and explain how the arrows link one clue to another in a a logical order.
  4. Demonstrate how to write a story guess.
  5. Invite the students to read the actual story silently, or initiate a shared reading experience.
  6. For subsequent stories, use story impressions to have students write individual story predictions.


Denner, P. R., Mcginlfy, W. J., & Brown, E. (1989). Effects of Story Impressions as a Prereading/Writing Activity on Story Comprehension. Journal of Educational Research, 82(6).

Vacca, R. T., Vacca, J. L., & Begoray, D. L. (2005). Content Area Reading: Literacy and Learning Across the Curriculum (Cdn Ed.).  Pearson Educaion Canada: Toronto, ON.