Narrative Obstacle Courses

UDL 1.2 UDL 4.1

In Narrative Obstacle Courses, students simultaneously build literary comprehension and sensory-motor integration skills by acting out parts of a text using gym or occupational therapy equipment to represent different story elements. A teacher physically constructs an environment to symbolize a story setting (e.g., a large wedge cushion as a mountain) and fine motor materials to support mimicking actions throughout a story (e.g., playdough as pizza dough). Narrative Obstacle Courses help students develop the ability to plan, sequence, execute, and adjust performance of a multi-step task (e.g., packing backpack, class projects) while also building understanding of story elements (e.g., plot, characters, setting). While this type of kinesthetic activity is particularly effective with early childhood learners and students with executive functioning disorders, it can be implemented at many grade levels to support cognitive and language development.

Implementation Tips

Text Selection
Choose texts that offer rich story elements (e.g., characters, clear sequential steps, familiar settings, conflict, resolution). Begin with simplified texts with fewer sequential steps (e.g., Three Little Pigs), then gradually introduce more complex storylines (e.g., The Gingerbread Boy).
Space, Equipment, and Materials
Consult with an Occupational or Physical Therapist to use the OT/PT gross motor space in order to easily access kinesthetic learning equipment (e.g., wedges, bolsters, trampoline, swings, trapeze, therapy balls). Classroom materials can be used to address specific fine-motor skills (e.g., beads, blocks, playdough).
Pictorial Sequence
Provide students with a sequence board of photos, images, or symbols (e.g., on removable velcro tabs) that represent the environment and activities of a Narrative Obstacle Course. Present a demonstration of the course features after reading a text before having students act out a retell of a story.
Minimizing Distraction and Wait Time
Invite small groups of students to use a Narrative Obstacle Course to minimize the whole class waiting for extended period of time.. Make each session interactive for learners in the small group waiting (e.g., count as someone jumps, pass props, taking turns removing sequence board photos as actions are completed).
Documenting Participation
Take pictures or videos of students engaging with the course. This documentation can be replayed or shown the next time the book is read, and also creates opportunities to discuss how it felt to participate in the actions as well as comparing and contrasting experiences with what happened in an actual text.
Promoting Student Input
Allow students overtime to contribute ideas into what features a Narrative Obstacle Course should include based on the events in a text. After reading a text ask students, “What equipment or materials might be good to use for this Narrative Obstacle Course?” and then acknowledge and incorporate student input.
Building A Routine
Plan a consistent time slot in the weekly schedule for students to use a Narrative Obstacle Course by collaborating with related service providers (e.g., OT, PT, Adapted Physical Education Teacher). This will build a routine and allow students to hear a text multiple times before engaging in physical retells.


Using Everyday Classroom Materials
A teacher uses the familiar text, [[ | The Three Billy Goats Gruff ]], to teach students how to sequentially retell a story and develop students’ spatial awareness. A Narrative Obstacle Course is prepared by using a low-rise sturdy table to serve as the bridge in the story. Volunteers are selected to play the roles of the three goats. As the teacher reads the story aloud, the each student acts out their part (e.g., stomping their feet on the bridge). The non-role playing students participate by stating a familiar, repeating line from the story (e.g. “Trip trap, trip trap, trip trap!”). At the end, the teacher asks the students for other elements that could be added to the course to make it more engaging (e.g., first goat stomps, the second goat walks, third goat crawls). After selecting new details to include in the obstacle course, the teacher selects new volunteers to role play and re-reads the story with the class.
Collaborating With Related Service Providers
A student with special education services has an IEP goal to develop gross and fine motor skills (e.g., ascend and descend stairs, cutting with scissors). The teacher collaborates with the student’s related service providers (e.g., Occupational or Physical Therapist, Adapted Physical Education Teacher) to incorporate a weekly time slot for students to engage with a Narrative Obstacle Course. The education team collaborates to match the content with developmental activities to support students’ kinesthetic learning (e.g., determine which equipment and materials can best support individualized needs) to pair sensory-motor supports with the literacy curriculum.

Related Strategies