The relationship of narrative production to reading comprehension: A systematic review

Darin Woolpert, California State University, San Marcos, USA (

Background: Reading is an academic challenge for many students. Some studies relate spoken narrative ability (i.e., telling stories) to reading comprehension, but the nature of any such relationship remains unclear. This systematic review examined early childhood studies linking narrative to reading published between 1980 and 2020.

Aim: To identify components of narrative ability (e.g., microstructure, macrostructure) related to reading comprehension.

Method: Of 2,910 potential studies identified, 12 met criteria to be included in this review.

Results: Eight of the 12 studies targeted narrative macrostructure (the conventional structure of stories) and showed consistent effects of treatment on reading comprehension. No such link was demonstrated in studies targeting narrative microstructure (e.g., richness of vocabulary, grammatical correctness, etc.).

Conclusions: While improving narrative ability can be useful in its own right, only interventions targeting macrostructure seem to improve reading comprehension.

Implications for children: Practising telling stories may help you become a better reader, since knowing pieces that all stories share will help you understand stories you read.

Implications for families: Your child is likely to understand stories they read better if they practise using conventional elements of stories (setting, conflict, resolution) in stories they tell. Explicitly identifying those elements in stories you read together is also likely to improve their reading.  

Implications for practitioners: Only certain aspects of narrative ability are associated with better reading comprehension in children. Specifically, explicitly teaching narrative macrostructure seems to make it easier for children to understand the stories they read.

Key words: early literacy, reading comprehension, education, review, systematic review

This presentation relates to the following United Nations Sustainable Development Goals: