How to teach Narrative

Narrative theory is familiar and a relatively easy concept for teachers and students of literature. Narrative structures can be studied in works of literature, journalism, theatre, and all time based media like movies or television adverts. While many media text can be analyzed according to 'classic' narrative principles of storytelling, moving images and digital forms require also a new critical framework.


"There are layers to narratives, to be sure, and they inevitably revolve around a mix of the present and the future, between what's happening now and the tantalising question of where it's all headed. "
Everything Bad is Good for you: how Popular Culture is making us smarter. S. Johnson, Penguin, 2005

As one of the long-standing 'key concepts' applied to media texts by A Level students, narrative theory is an essential part of the media teacher's toolkit. Although narrative tends not to appear discretely as a topic for A Level students, all 'micro' textual analysis requires the analysis of narrative at the level of the text, and many of the broader topic areas relate genre and audience to questions of narrative. Furthermore, all production work is informed by a range of creative decisions about storytelling, and the current assessment conventions require students to write reflectively about such narrative construction.

Narrative is also a relatively easy concept for the English teacher to apply to media, but there are pros and cons that come with such ease of transition. Are media texts and literature interchangeable in narrative terms, or do moving image and digital forms require a new critical lens?

There are a variety of ways in to working on narrative with students, and the teacher will offer a range of strategies that reflect this. First, the more straightforward deconstruction of texts according to 'classic' narrative principles (how space and time are manipulated in storytelling across a range of media), and second, a way of 'doing narrative' that challenges the more orthodox approach and asks whether reading media texts is really more complex.

In order to raise such questions, one may focus, amongst other media, on computer/ video games as texts which potentially transgress conventional notions of media reading and writing. The objective is first to familiarise participants with the 'typical' approach to narrative work in Media Studies, and also to challenge the concept itself.
Julian McDougall, Newman College of Higher Education, Birmingham

Read about Film Narrative and Television Narrative
and a summary of the
Key Questions