What it is

Narrative is fundamental to thinking. When we think, we think in narrative form.  Narrative can refer to a story itself or to the conventions by which we communicate and understand it. These conventions are the way we construct a world that sets up and depends on expectations of human behaviour to amplify it. They include the selection and organisation of actions and events into a plot and a suite of individualised or stock characters to carry the plot forward. A narrative is usually structured in such a way as to invite responder involvement through recounting challenges and characters’ attitudes towards them and moving towards resolution.

Narrative is a part of everyday communication to convey any message, be it political (an annual budget), commercial (a fashion collection) or institutional (public health warnings). In these messages, the elements of narrative may not be obvious and are inferred through personal identification with the situation.

Why it is important

It is innately human to tell stories as this is the way we organise and shape life experience. We use narrative to connect people to information, values and ideas. Through narrative we explore human actions, interactions, motivations and reactions.

Teachers use narrative to engage students in learning and students use narrative to interpret their own lives. Through narrative they enter and create other worlds. Narrative is an enticing pathway for representing, understanding and engaging with human experience and with ideas.

Stage 6

Students understand that narrative shapes our understanding of human experience, each story contributing to larger narratives that claim to give purpose to life.

They learn that:

  • narrative organises relationships between characters, places and events into meaningful forms
  • we see ourselves and our experiences as and through narrative
  • narratives can be interpreted in different ways including as metaphor, symbol or psychology*
  • the functional, psychological, symbolic or metaphorical - and have various purposes*
  • narratives are ideologically driven and can be used to legitimise the values of particular groups*
  • narratives are everywhere and we are so used to them that we cannot see them at work; analysis makes us conscious of how narrative shapes our thoughts*. 

*Advanced and Extension courses

Stage 5

Students understand that narrative provides structures for expressing ideas and values.

Students learn that

  • Stories represent broad aspects of humanity, society and culture, made particular and personal to interest the responder
  • Stories often revolve around complication or conflict (internal, between characters or of a character with society), which may rise to a climax before falling to a resolution.
  • Plot structures (chronological, flashback, in media res, circular etc) can control responses to the story
  • Values are embedded in narratives through selection of details of events and characters and choice of language

Stage 4

Students understand that narrative shapes and is shaped by one’s view of the world.

Students learn that

  • Their own experience and culture influence their responses to stories
  • The conventions of narrative are combined to engage the responder emotionally and intellectually with events and characters depicted in the story and with ideas and values implied by the story
  • Conventions of narrative are adapted to different modes and media to achieve these effects
  • Close consideration and analysis of stories can bring to light subtleties in the text.

Stage 3

Students understand that there are conventions of the narrative form that combine to involve responders in the story.

Students learn that narrative engages responders through

  • Recognisable characters, events and places
  • Skilful plot development
  • Perceptible mood and atmosphere
  • Evocative images and imagery that complement the story
  • Narrative voice and voices of characters.
  • They learn that these conventions are adapted to different modes and media.

Stage 2

Students understand that narratives may be interpreted in various ways.

They learn that

  • characters and events may be drawn differently for different purposes audiences, modes and media
  • stories may be interpreted through action, character and setting
  • stories present a view of the world.

Stage 1

Students understand that narrative is constructed for particular audiences and purposes.

Students learn that stories

  • are usually made up of a sequence of events
  • have patterns that set up expectations and allow prediction of actions and attitudes
  • can have messages and evoke feelings
  • can be varied in the telling
  • present a view of their world.


Students understand that narrative is a way of sharing and learning about life experiences.

Students learn that stories

  • can be real or imagined
  • can be told through different modes and media
  • have a beginning, a middle and an end.