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Revista CEFAC

On-line version ISSN 1982-0216

Rev. CEFAC vol.16 no.1 São Paulo Jan./Feb. 2014 

Orignal Articles

Development of oral narrative and level of mother's education

Ana Carolina Francisca da Silva1 

Amandrade Andrade Ferreira2 

Bianca Arruda Manchester de Queiroga3 

1Fundação de Amparo à Ciência e Tecnologia do Estado de Pernambuco – FACEPE/UFPE, Recife, PE, Brazil.

2Universidade Federal de Pernambuco – UFPE, Recife, PE, Brazil.

3Universidade Federal de Pernambuco – UFPE, Recife, PE, Brazil.



: to assess the oral narrative in children depending on the level of maternal education.


: the study was conducted at the Municipal Public School Magalhães Bastos, in the Meadow neighborhood in Recife, with 20 children in 1st grade I, aged between 7 and 8 years. For the evaluation we used a text and an mp3 recording of children for telling the story.


: we observed that most children were in category II of the narrative scheme, most problems were cohesive in their narrative coherence and in relation to all the children were at level IV of consistency. When data from narrative scheme, cohesion and coherence were crossed with the data on the level of maternal education was observed that there was no significant relationship between them. It was also seen that very few mothers have the habit of reading in the home environment and most of them did not even graduate from elementary school I. We also observed that the more education the mothers, the better the habit of reading them.


: the maternal education had no significant effect on the oral narratives of children; this is due to several factors that need to be investigated further. However, the variability of oral narrative development of children observed in this study, whereas age and education were constant, suggesting the influence of other linguistic and social variables in this acquisition.

Key words: Child Language; Language Development; Communication; Child; Family Relations



: verificar a narrativa oral em crianças em função do nível de escolaridade materna.


: o estudo foi realizado na Escola Pública Municipal Magalhães Bastos, no bairro da Várzea no Recife, com 20 crianças da 1ª série do ensino fundamental I, com faixa etária entre sete e oito anos. Para a avaliação foi utilizado um texto e um Mp3 para a gravação das crianças narrando a história.


: observou-se que a maioria das crianças encontrava-se na categoria II do esquema narrativo, grande parte apresentou problemas coesivos em suas narrativas e em relação à coerência todas as crianças encontravam-se no nível IV de coerência. Quando os dados de esquema narrativo, coesão e coerência foram cruzados com os dados do nível de escolaridade das mães foi observado que não houve relação significante entre eles. Foi visto também que pouquíssimas mães têm o hábito de leitura no ambiente doméstico e a maioria delas nem chegou a concluir o ensino fundamental I. Também foi observado que quanto maior a escolaridade das mães, melhor o hábito de leitura delas.


: a escolaridade materna não influenciou significantemente na narrativa oral de crianças, isto se deve a diversos fatores que necessitam ser investigados com mais profundidade. Entretanto a variabilidade do desenvolvimento da narrativa oral das crianças observada no presente estudo, considerando que a idade e a escolaridade foram constantes, sugere a influência de outras variáveis linguísticas e sociais nesta aquisição.

Palavras-Chave: Linguagem Infantil; Desenvolvimento da Linguagem; Comunicação; Criança; Relações Familiares


Language is a system that can enable a large development of creativity, for through it the individual can also create and understand new grammatical sentences created by others1. The way the child uses language depends directly on how this language is addressed to it, i.e. if the adult use a language with simple grammatical structures and a reduced vocabulary, the child will use the same processes to communicate2. Child builds the language through dialogic and social relationships it establishes with other speakers of the language3.

Several studies have claimed that children of different cultures follow the same route of language development4. However, according to socio-interactionism, the interaction of the child with the mother and with the world around will be central to such development, since it is the mother who, in most cases, means and interprets the baby’ speech, introducing the child in the communicative universe5. In this perspective, the child will build and develop the language from their social interactions6 and, through the language, later will be able to exchange their experiences and knowledge7. Overtime and from contact with the language, the child refines the knowledge and comes to make more convoluted segmentations, to build more complex structures and, subsequently, to rule on this knowledge in a metalinguistic way3.

Study suggests that the social status of the family group will influence the development of language in children, with a focus on the influence of maternal speech8. To do so, however, it is necessary to think about the quality of the relationships that develop among family members, i.e. the involvement that the mother and the other people who live in the house are with child, as well as the intellectual and cognitive level of each of these people will also be decisive for the development of the child’s language9.

Among all the capabilities that the child develops in the process of acquiring oral language, one occupies a special place, the ability to narrate events10. The narrative has been defined as one of the main tools that the individual has to reveal his thinking, since it involves characters, circumstances, consequences, space and time11. In this sense, the narrative allows exchanges of meanings from existing symbolic systems in their culture. These symbolic systems, in turn, are used by men so that they can build their representations of the world12. The narrative is used to recall events that have already occurred, being important tool for life13-15. The species of the narrative genre are varied, there are folk tales, evolutionary analyzes, fables, myths, fairy tales, justifications of action, memorials, advice, excuses, among many other narrative types15. Narrating allows for the establishment of relationships not restricted to logical causality, including psychological causality or intentionality to explain the events and situations16. The narrative can reach the child in several ways, for instance through lullabies, stories, songs that marked the childhood and youth of the mother and father cradling in her lap, and also primarily through conversations between the adult and baby17.

The reading of fairy tales can be used as a promoter resource of development. And this feature contributes to the development of socio-cognitive skills, social information processing and understanding of mental states18.

Narrative abilities of children provide rich and varied information about their linguistic, cognitive and social skills19,20, besides different types of textual, narrative and social knowledge2. Studies correlate the conversational style of parents with narrative performance of children21. It is through the construction of narratives that children try to assign meaning and coherence to the world around them. This process of meaning from experience develops in interaction with others, usually parents22.

Several authors agree that the story is a kind of narrative with specific components that appear in an organized manner through conventions and typical linguistic constructions23. One of these authors describes the structure of a story including the scene introduction where the individual will describe the time and place where the event occurs and this scene introduction will usually start with conventional linguistic markers such as “ Once upon a time “, “One day”; and after that , it will be time to describe the characters with their goals, then after such descriptions it is time to talk about the problem-situation and then resolve it and finally, the closing occurs that usually ends with conventional end” and they lived happily ever”23.

It is expected that at 6 years to acquire the structure of narrative text is complete and thereafter children spend narrate stories with coherently in detail and without interlocutor support24.

Study suggests the existence of different categories of development in the acquisition of a narrative scheme of stories, from a category where there is only the scene, the characters and conventional linguistic markers of beginning and the full story, with a beginning, middle and end. The same study also highlights the importance of micro-textual (cohesion) and macro-textual (consistency) elements in order to ensure the linking of ideas and meaning unity of discourse, proposing a sequence of acquisition during the process of language development, pointing out eight-year-old children should be able to produce complete, cohesive and coherent stories. However, age alone cannot be taken as a parameter for considering the development of storytelling, since this ability also depends on the child’s experiences with this genre, as well as other socio-cultural variables23,25.

Study on youths and adults found that the coherence covers, besides language elements, world knowledge, shared knowledge, situatedness, informativity, intertextuality, intentionality and acceptability26.

Among the studies that explore socio-cultural aspcts8,9, one aspect stands out as having important influence on child development: the level of maternal education. Maternal education is associated with the mental development of the child, i.e. the higher level of maternal education, the better child’s cognitive development27. Based on this hypothesis, the present study aimed at investigating the development of oral narrative in children depending on the level of maternal education.


This is an observational, descriptive and transversal study.

Twenty children in the 1st grade of elementary of a public school participated in this research, with 13 females and seven males, randomly selected, ranging between seven and eight years of age. The number of participants was estimated by criteria of delineation among the group, which allows the analysis of the behavior of variables within a single group of participants, with no claim to achieve a representative sample of a population.

Children who had neurologic, psychiatric and/or hearing disorders, as well as those with any type of confirmed language disorder were excluded from the study.

Materials and Procedures

Initially, an interview with the mothers was performed in order to know their level of education and other sociocultural aspects (Figure 1).

Figure 1 – Script of the interview with the mothers 

Subsequently, the oral narrative activity was then applied, by using the method of tales and retelling (Figure 2). This activity was recorded and transcribed for analysis. The activity was carried out with each child separately in a room, and outside of class time.

Figure 2 – Text used for oral narrative 

Data collection was conducted from November to December 2009. The narrative was analyzed in three aspects: the narrative scheme according to Rego28, cohesion and coherence according Spinillo and Martins26.

It was approved by the Ethics Committee in research at the Health Sciences Center of the Federal University of Pernambuco under the registration 234/09 without restrictions. The responsible party was informed about the study’s objectives and was asked to sign the Instrument of Consent allowing the child’s participation in the study.

Data was tabulated in a spreadsheet of the SPSS statistical analysis software version 13.0, which enabled the analysis of descriptive and correlation statistics. Descriptive statistics and Pearson’s R correlation test at 95% confidence interval (p<0.05) were used.


As can be seen in Table 1, the results revealed that out of the 20 children, 16 are cared for by their mothers. It was also noted that the number of residents in each household varied greatly among participants. It was seen that in 14 families only one person in the house was working and in four families no one in the house works. It may be noted that out of the 20 families, 17 live only on minimum wage and three families depend exclusively on the Bolsa Familia program. And most mothers do not have the habit of reading for children. However, when questioned whether children liked to tell stories, all said yes.

Table 1 - Distribution of participants by caregiver, number of people working, family income, mothers who read to children, categories of stories’ narrative scheme, cohesion, mothers’ reading habits and level of maternal education. Recife 2009 

Caregiver N %
mother 16 80
grandmother 3 15
grandfather 1 5

Number of people working N %

0 4 20
1 14 70
2 2 10

family income N %

Bolsa família 3 15
Up to one minimum wage 17 85

mothers who read to children N %

Yes 9 45
No 11 55

Narrative scheme N %

Category II 8 40
Category III 7 35
Category IV 5 25

Cohesion N %

With problems 11 55
No problems 9 45

mother’s reading habits N %

no reads 2 10
rarely reads 8 40
reads a bit 5 25
reads a lot 5 25

Mothers’ education level N %

illiterate 2 10
Incomplete elementary school 8 40
Complete Elementary School I 4 20
Incomplete High School 1 5
High School 5 25

Total 20 100

After collecting and transcribing data, analyses were performed to identify the narrative scheme, cohesion and coherence of oral narrative produced by children. To analyze the narrative scheme certain criteria were established to identify the categories of narratives comparing them with those proposed by Rego28. In Rego’s criteria, the story is classified as Class I when there is only the scene, the characters and the conventional linguistic markers of beginning; while in the criteria used in the present study the history was classified as Class I when only the characters are described. In Rego’s criteria, the hstory is classified as Category II when already have more Category I plus an outline of the problem-situation, while in the present study the story was classified as Category II when it was not clear that the animals wanted to eat the cake after it was finished (problem-situation). In Rego’s criteria, the history is classified as Category III when already has Category II plus a sudden resolution of the problem-situation, while in the criteria used in this study the story was classified under Category III when it was clear that the animals wanted to eat the cake after it was finished (sudden resolution of the problem-situation). In Rego’s criteria, the story is classified in Category IV when the story appears complete, while in the criteria used the story was classified under Category IV when it was clear that the animals were attracted by the smell of finished cake, which came to ask the cake and the chicken does not allowed it (full story).

After analyses it was observed that most children was in class II regarding the narrative scheme, this analysis is shown in Table 1. The transcription of texts produced by children can be seen in full in Figure 3.

Figure 3 – Category of narrative scheme and analysis of cohesive matrix 

To analyze the cohesion certain criteria were established to identify the narratives with no cohesion problems. Narratives with cohesion problems were those with no cohesive links, damaging the connection between the text elements, while narratives without cohesion problems had sufficient cohesive links to liaise between all elements of the text.

After analysis it was observed that most children had cohesive problems in their oral narratives (Table 1).

As regards consistency, all the children were at level IV of consistency. This means a well-defined main event in the oral narratives of children, which is held as well as the topic of the story; the outcome is present and has a close relationship with the main event. For this reason all the stories were considered consistent.

Regarding the reading habits, only five mothers reported having the habit of reading in the home environment. Table 1 shows that half of mothers (ten) did not actually complete elementary education I.

Table 2 shows that no increasing distribution among the narrative categories depending on the increase in maternal education.

Table 2 – The relationship between maternal education and children's Narrative Scheme. Recife 2009 

illiterate Incomplete elementary school I Complete Elementary School I Incomplete elementary school II High school
2 1 5 1 - 1 8
3 - 3 2 - 2 7
4 1 - 1 1 2 5

Total 2 8 4 1 5 20

Table 3 shows that 11 children produced oral narratives with cohesion problems and, nine children produced cohesive oral narratives. Among the children who had cohesion problems, it is observed that maternal education also varied greatly.

Table 3 – The relationship between the level of maternal education and cohesion. Recife 2009. 

illiterate Incomplete elementary school I Complete Elementary School I Incomplete elementary school II High school
With problems - 7 2 - 2 11
cohesive 2 1 2 1 3 9

Total 2 8 4 1 5 20

As noted in the narrative scheme and cohesion, the habit of reading varied widely among levels of maternal education. However, it is noteworthy that the five mothers with secondary education usually read more often than the others, according to data shown in Table 4.

Table 4 - The relationship between educational level and maternal reading habits. Recife 2009 

illiterate Incomplete elementary school I Complete Elementary School I Incomplete elementary school II High school
no reads 2 - - - - 2
rarely reads - 4 3 1 - 8
reads a bit - 1 1 - 3 5
reads a lot - 3 - - 2 5

Total 2 8 4 1 5 20

These data were subjected to a correlation analysis (Pearson’s R coefficient) and there was significant correlation only in crossing the variables of maternal education and reading habits, as shown in Table 5.

Table 5 - Correlation matrix between maternal variables and linguistic variables of children 

Maternal Education Reading Habit Oral narrative Cohesion
Maternal Education - .445 (p&lt; .05) .365 (p=.144) .181 (p= .445)
Reading Habit - - .120 (p= .591) . 297 (p= 203)
Oral narrative - - - . 298 (p= 202)
Cohesion - - - -


The studied population was composed mostly of female children. Most of the children belong to families that have a very low income and few of them survive only on the value of the Bolsa Familia program. This data is very important, since it is known that social class interferes with the quality of the narrative28. Families from different social classes in different ways influence the process of language development in children8.

The children in the study mostly live under the care of mothers, who lies unemployed or not working out of home. Despite this intense experience of mothers, they are children little encouraged to read because, according to the interviews, few mothers read or tell stories to their children.

The interaction with parents allow the child to participate in the narrative practices of day-to-day in which the child learns to tell and organize their stories, what kinds of events are reportable and what kind of relationships can be established between them based on an interpretative framework of their culture. Thus, parents encourage children to construct their narratives and develop specific parts of their stories by providing ideas, using questions and developing children’s responses22.

The interaction of children with mothers through stories read or told by them is of paramount importance to the oral narrative development, as when listening to stories told by their mothers, children tend to develop their ability to retell and create their own stories17.

The lack of this interaction may impair the child’s language development as it is in the early childhood education and with the help of parents that children should develop their first narrative skills11.

Family interactions play an important role in the development of the child’s narrative construction, since family is the first context of socialization. It is through questioning and emotional reactions raised by parents in response to the child’ story that parents actively drive the content and structure of narratives of their children22,29.

In the present study, the narratives of children were analyzed and classified according to the narrative scheme, cohesion and coherence. It was observed that children are well distributed in the narratives categories II, III and IV, eight children are in class II, seven in category III and five in category IV.

This distribution would be natural if children had different age and education, but as the age and education were constant, the result seems to confirm that the development of the narrative scheme relies on other language experiences of children, particularly those that occurring outside the school environment, particularly in the family context.

In a review of studies that investigated the acquisition of narrative scheme of story in several languages, authors state that in favorable conditions of environmental stimulus and opportunities for learning, children aged four to five years produce stories classified in category I and II, children aged between six and seven years produce quite varied stories between categories II and IV, and children aged eight years produce complete stories in class IV23. In the present study however, differently from that reported by the aforementioned review, eight out of the twenty surveyed children, aged between seven and eight years and should be producing stories in categories III and IV, produced far less elaborate stories classified as II. Therefore, it can be stated that this population lacks incentives that encourage the development of oral narratives.

This may even impair the whole learning process of the child, because it is expected that schoolchildren understand explanations of their teachers, tell and retell stories and interpret them. And this ability to produce and understand oral narratives is important to academic success as well as for social-emotional well-being24. One study showed that for a good language development, the school needs to organize reflective activities based on dialogue, understanding of the other’s role and the dynamics, i.e. collaboration among all involved in this context. Thus, it will be possible the formation of subjects whose actions will transform the environment they live30.

In the present study, most children produced oral narratives with cohesion problems. The use of cohesive elements does not only depend on the age of the narrator, but other aspects, such as situations of production and the type of text being produced23. It is possible that the text used has brought difficulties for the children of this study. For this reason, it is recommended that the school routine proposed a work with different text genres.

Studies suggest the existence of four distinct levels of development as the ability to produce coherent stories, namely levels I, II, III and IV. And the factors already mentioned in the literature as capable of influencing the textual coherence are education, age and social factors23. All children in this study produced narratives considered as level IV of consistency.

Regarding the main objective of the present study by investigating the development of oral narrative in children depending on the level of maternal education, there was no statistical significance in the analysis of correlation between data relating to maternal education and narrative levels, refuting a priori the raised hypothesis.

According to this study, maternal education alone is not enough to influence this acquisition. However, when considering the variation in the categories of narrative in the study population, which is composed of children of the same age and same school, one cannot deny that other social variables that pervade the family environment are intervening in children’s language development.

It is also important to note that although maternal education has not correlated separately with the development of oral narratives, there was a significant correlation between maternal education and reading habit, which undoubtedly interferes with literacy practices occurring in the family environment.

Concerning to this influence, the literature points to studies that argue that the mother has a key role in the child’s linguistic development5, including a highlight for the association of this variable with the child’s mental development27. On the other hand, another study that aimed at investigating the influence of maternal education on the language development of children aged 2 to 24 months also found no statistical significance regarding this possible influence31.

Thus, the fact that maternal education has not significantly influenced the oral narrative of children in the present study can be explained by several factors. It is possible that maternal education variable alone is not able to exert such influence, but, as it has been verified, it is related to other socio-cultural habits, such as reading frequency; then these and other aspects of family routine need to be further investigated.

Another limiting aspect of the present study was the sample size, because they were only 20 children, the sample may have been insufficient to establish the intended relationship. It is necessary that further studies being conducted with other populations and a larger sample.


As it has been reported, no significant effect of maternal education on the development of children’s oral narrative was found. However, the variability of categories observed in the children’s narrative under the same age range and studying at the same school, suggests the influence of other social or family variables on such development.

In addition, children in this study had lower than expected performance for their age and education when comparing the results with other investigations. The effect of social variables on the development of oral narrative needs to be further investigated in other studies on other populations with amplified samples.


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Received: March 26, 2012; Accepted: August 23, 2012

Mailing address: Ana Carolina Francisca da Silva. Rua Monsenhor Silva, 399 – Madalena. Recife – PE. E-mail:

Conflict of interest: non-existent

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