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  • Emma Newling

Teaching narrative structure

How a money spider and the Bible can help.

I seriously do not remember being taught half the things we talk about in primary school today, especially in literacy. Narrative structure would have really helped! To be fair, it’s entirely possible my teachers did try to teach such things to me, and I just did not ‘get it’ … so, narrative structure.

Knowledge domain: English/ Literacy

Topic: Narrative structure

Theological Connections:

The Bible is a story. It is a big story (in concept, in time and in print). It is a true story that reveals the very nature of reality to those who are willing to listen. But it is essentially a story, and as such it follows classic narrative structure. Understanding the biblical story through the categories of narrative structure is a two-way street: it helps the children know the big picture story of the Bible, but it also gives them tangible examples of how narrative structure unfolds. And as a bonus, it undoes the fiction that narratives are only fiction!

The idea is simple: teach from what is known to what is unknown. Explain it, give an example or two and let the students practice. So, imagine we’ve explained narrative structure, here are two examples of it (one that students might be familiar with and one that might be new):

Very short, fictional story


Incy wincy spider [character(s)] climbed up the waterspout [setting],


Down came the rain and washed poor Incy out.


Out came the sunshine and dried up all the rain,


So, Incy wincy spider climbed up the spout again.

Greatest-ever, non-fiction story

Orientation: Genesis 1 & 2

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth." (Genesis 1:1)

  • The setting: a vast universe but zoomed in on an intricate world that was very good.

  • Other characters are introduced, namely humanity, and we meet the opening scene characters Adam and Eve in Genesis 2.

  • The relationships are established: Genesis 2:15-17.

  • One other main character appears in Genesis 3:1 ‘Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made.’

Complication: Genesis 3

Adam & Eve ignored God’s instruction about the one tree in the garden from which they were not to eat. Everything was affected by this rebellion:

  • The trust between Adam & Eve was broken (Gen 3:7 compare Gen 2:25)

  • Their God given purpose in the world is frustrated and damaged (childbearing, family, working the ground etc Gen 3:16-18)

  • Creation itself is now a dangerous place for Adam and Eve no longer ‘rule over’ it in obedience to the Creator (Genesis 3:14-15)

  • Humanity is cut off from God, the source of life, so death – the penalty for sin and the great enemy of humanity – enters the world (Gen 3:22-24 and the example of the genealogies in Gen 5).

Resolution: Genesis 4 to Acts - the climax is Jesus’ death, resurrection & ascension.

God works to bless his creation. Through the choosing of one man (Abraham) from whom grows a nation (Israel) but in whom there is only one righteous man (Jesus), God works through history. Through the story of Israel, God reveals the necessity of Jesus’ crucifixion, resurrection and ascension as the Messiah, the perfect substitute (sacrifice) and representative (high priest) to pay the price for humanity’s rebellion against our Creator and to reconcile us, so that we may enjoy being in God’s presence for ever.

The climax of this great rescue story is in the events of Easter, but the conclusion to the story is delayed … the last few pages of the story linger over a long period of time as the good news of forgiveness and salvation in Jesus Christ is spread across the earth and through the ages by the Holy Spirit’s work through God’s people, the church. During this period, the New Testament letters explain how to live during this long penultimate page.

Conclusion: Revelation 21 & 22

Jesus will return and bring to an end injustice and suffering, pain, sickness and death (the consequences of sin). Creation will be set free from its bondage to decay and be renewed in the splendour of God’s glory. God will come and dwell with his people. He will be their God and will rule with justice and peace and his people will live enjoying God and one another forever. But for those who have rejected God’s offer of forgiveness and inclusion in his kingdom, they will be excluded forever.

This conclusion is sure and certain because of the historic events of the climax, but the timing is unknown … and so all of us live on the penultimate page of God’s great story. Where will the story end for you?

Examples for K-4:

For younger students, you could read and talk through The Garden, the Curtain and the Cross by Carl Laferton (The Good Book Company, 2016) to practice identifying narrative structure components. Alternatively, you could provide the pictures and discuss the story of ‘Who will be king?’ (children’s version of Two Ways to Live both published by Matthias Media). Students could use the pictures to scaffold their own retelling (either verbal or written) of God’s great rescue story, identifying the narrative structure as they go.

For students in Years 3 & 4, literacy lessons could partner with Christian education lessons using the Who will be King? scaffold. Christian education lessons can focus on learning the content of God’s great story while literacy lessons access and utilise students’ growing knowledge of the biblical story as content for narrative structure discussion.

Examples for Years 5+:

Older students may enjoy similar practice watching Glen Scrivener’s (from Speak Life) presentation in the Good News in 90 seconds (please note: it moves quite fast (though the graphics and subtitles help) so all students may need to listen to it a couple of times, especially EALD students). The aspects of narrative structure are relatively easy to identify in the presentation, though they are not explicit.

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