Pellegrini, A. (1984). The effect of dramatic play on children’s generation of cohesive text. Discourse Processes, 1984, 7:57-67.1


This study focuses on how a child conveys meaning and the importance of the familiarity of the knowledge base of the listener (informed versus naïve), in retelling of stories. Kindergarten through second grade students listened to a story and participated in one of three story-related activities including drawing a picture, discussing the story with an adult, or acting out the story. The results indicate that dramatic play appears to increase children’s likelihood to be more cohesive, explicit, and thorough in the retelling of stories to someone with no knowledge of the story.

Key Findings:

Students who engaged in dramatic play for processing were better able to use explicit/descriptive language than other students.

Stories retold by students who engaged in dramatic play for processing were more cohesive in conveying meaning than the stories retold by other students.

Significance of the Findings:

The study is significant in that it looked at how a listener’s knowledge base (informed versus naïve) shaped how students approached retelling. Also, it examines students’ use of explicit language to retell stories. The author’s work demonstrates that thematic-fantasy play can be important to students’ ability to communicate ideas to others.


This study engaged 108 kindergarten through second grade students. The researcher grouped students into age-matched, gender-balanced groups of four and randomly assigned each quad to one of three conditions. Two researchers read three different storybooks to the students, randomly assigned to groups for reading. Depending on the condition to which a quad group was assigned, students participated in either dramatic play to re-enact the story, adult-led discussion of the story, or drawing scenes from the story after the readings. Students orally retold the story to one of the experimenters. Half of the students retold it to the researcher who had read the story to them (an “informed” listener), while the other half retold the story to the other researcher, who students had been told did not know the story (a “naïve” listener). The first two storybook readings were training sessions, with data collected after the third reading. After data collection, the researchers analyzed the students’ ability to convey meaning during retelling.

Limitations of the Research:

Since the study included second grade students, the research might have involved these students in both oral and written retellings of the stories, potentially adding more depth into the relationship between dramatic play and the ability to retell a story using explicit language.

Questions to Guide New Research:

How sustained are the effects of dramatic play on students’ ability to use explicit language to communicate? Does dramatic play equally impact students’ oral and written retelling ability?

1The text of this summary is adapted from the Arts Education Partnership’s 2002 research compendium: Deasy, R. J. (Ed.). (2002). Critical links: Learning in the arts and student academic and social development. Washington, DC: Arts Education Partnership.