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Intro: This study investigated measures and developed a tool for analyzing narrative microstructure.

Background: Research has indicated the effectiveness of narrative tasks in eliciting complex language structures in children for language sample analysis and aids in differentiating language and cognitive impairment from typical development. It may also be more apt when assessing children from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds as compared to standardized language assessments. Despite substantial research into narrative development in children, the range in ages of children, tasks used to elicit narratives and the structures analyzed have rarely overlapped to create norms that SLPs working in the field could use in their own assessment.  

Hypothesis:  The authors of the current study had two main objectives. The first was to aid in the assessment of narratives by SLPs in the field by developing a standardized narrative elicitation task in a commercially available test. The second was to establish a method for calculating the two principal factors for analysis of microstructure in narrative tasks: Linguistic productivity and complexity. 

Methodology and Participants: The investigators used a whole population sample of 250 children, aged 5-12, from a variety of schools across the US that had participated in the norming process for the Test of Narrative Language. Children in the sample were presented with a single picture. The examiner provided a model story including major macrostructural as well as microstructural narrative elements. The examiners then provided the children with another picture and asked them to tell their own story. Narratives were then transcribed and analyzed for productivity and complexity. Productivity was a measure that included the total number of words (TNW), number of different words (NDW) and the total number of t-units (one main clause with a subordinate clause)produced. Complexity included measures of syntactic organization, use of clausal subordination and the mean length of t-unit. 

Conclusion: The study produced the Index of Narrative Microstructure (INMIS) for use by clinicians in the field which includes normative data for children aged 5-12 and furthered statistical analyses of productivity and complexity. The authors emphasize that narrative analysis is a complement to other language assessment measures in determining the presence of a speech-language impairment. 

Relevance to the field: The research also highlighted the growth of children’s narrative abilities from kindergarten into the upper elementary years. In these age groups, narratives were an effective component in eliciting complex language from children. However, the authors also noted that the oldest children in the study (11 and 12 year olds) did not produce more or more complex language than 9 and 10 year olds. The authors hypothesized that into adolescence, developing fictional narratives may no longer be motivating to children and other sampling procedures, such as expository tasks, may be more appropriate for older children. 


Justice, L. M., Bowles, R. P., Kaderavek, J. N., Ukrainetz, T. A., Eisenberg, S. L., & Gillam, R. B. (2006). The index of narrative microstructure: A clinical tool for analyzing school-age children’s narrative performances. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 15(2), 177-191.  https://doi:10.1044/1058-0360(2006/017)