As we all know, retelling a story after reading is a foundation in children's literacy development but really, how many times can we use a story map... especially when it doesn't seem to be the tool a child needs to build their reading comprehension? Like with so many other classroom practices, it is essential to make space for both creativity and student agency. The creativity comes from the activities you choose to teach and practice retelling and the agency comes with letting your students decide how they want to practice.
What's the big deal about retelling?
It's a big deal! In fact, one the first indicators that children understand what they read is in their ability to correctly retell a story in sequence and with detail. The comprehension strategy of retelling consolidates on understandings of story elements (character, setting, problem, solution, plot), sequencing, determining importance and also inferring.
Alternatively, we can sometimes misplace a child's reading level due to their oral reading accuracy and fluency. Without considering retelling, accuracy nor fluency on their own can give a clear picture of where a child is at with literacy development.
1. Story Walk
I first tried this during the Global Read Aloud in 2021 and it has been a practice that has stayed with me. You will need a scan or digital copy of the book and a color printer for this. But the results are so worth it. The standard way to implement this is to arrange the prints of the book pages out in order in your classroom (or hallway). Sometimes it goes in a straight line... but when the text is longer it weaves through my classroom. Students start at the beginning of the text and walk the book path retelling and using the images to guide them. When they get stuck, they can lean in and check the words.
Beyond just retelling, I find it quite magical observing the students' use of language, the ways they cooperate and how they guide each other in retelling.
My students are always fully engaged in story walks and the practice can be transformed into many other literacy activities. Here are some other ways I've played with story walks:
Kept the story on display across a long wall in my classroom
Gaining excitement for a text study and identifying vocabulary to teach
Mixing up the pages of the story and having students reorganize them
2. Act it Out
Reader's Theater is one way to do this, but it doesn't need to be as time consuming or product-focused. By both the teacher (or parent) and student(s) taking on the main roles of a story, they can orally perform.
The smaller your group is, the more this can function as an assessment into comprehension - larger groups work better for building the practice and learning from each another.
Creepy Carrots was excellent for the smaller group since it has so few characters. With just Jasper and two or three carrots, everyone gets lots of talking and retelling time. Leaving me free to observe, question and take notes.
Popplet is an app primarily for building mind maps but it also works for sequencing and retelling as the Popplets are connected and moveable. Unlike a graphic organizer, Popplet is naturally differentiated by how much a student will include in their retelling. You can create expectations for this by having students choose three, four or five part retelling.
While Popplets are fun and engaging, you can recreate this with sticky notes.
Some options for using it with retelling stories include students building their own Popplets from photos of the text, photos of sketches they made for retelling or by simply adding text. Alternatively, as the teacher, you can build a template and share it. Students can reorder or sequence the events (pictures or words) and use it to orally retell.
Add a challenge by using text Popplets under the images to include a word bank for students to use when retelling. This is excellent to get them to practice using keywords and important adjectives.
So many of my students are unbelievably artistically talented and through this, we can tap into and engage their minds. This works particularly well for language learners as well as for visual learners and it can easily be differentiated by how many parts are being retold. Keep it simple with one large mural style drawing, stretch learners' thinking with three to four sketches or create a challenge by asking for details with 6+ sketches or by adding labels and captions.
5. Magnetic Characters and Setting
I have a thing for magnetic tape. From our whiteboards to the heaters lining the walls, lockers in the hallway... we've got space to play.
Cut out copies of the characters from a story and some of the scenery (don't laminate unless you're going to use this for one-hundred years) then stick some magnetic tape on the back. Place it on a magnetic surface and start playfully retelling.
I sometimes take this up a notch by photographing the characters and setting, then put them in Google Slides to add some text. Print and trim these images in place of book photocopies. This can serve as reminders of characters' names or repeated phrases from the text (so important!).
6. Concept Maps for Retelling Nonfiction
While our minds tend to automatically shift to fictional texts with retelling, our learners are also expected to be able to retell what they read in nonfiction books. And it's a bit more challenging than enticing tales with predictable storylines.
In this case, concept maps (and graphic organizers) are my go-to tools. I regularly use them during reading conferences and guided reading group responses. They are, essentially, the story maps of nonfiction.
You can find all of these versions in my K-2 Differentiated Writing Paper pack.
7. Retelling Rope with a Guide or Sentence Starters
This idea seemed quite abstract to me until I saw it used by my EAL co-teacher.
Each child had a small twine with seven knots tied in a row. The sensory elements of this surprisingly kept even our most distracted learners interested. Once the strategy was explained and the visual retelling cards introduced, we modeled it together with a read aloud of A Mouse Called Julian.
Our students were engaged through the whole class practice, then again with a text of choice and partners. The visual guides with sentence stems made the learning engagement accessible to all learners.
Routines in the classroom are one of the most powerful tools to build student independence. However, so are creativity and choice.
If we, as teachers, always use the same tools, techniques and methods, the learners who don't succeed in that specific way will never have the opportunity to show us what they can really do.
So from this, and my previous post 5 Creative Ways to Retell a Story, I hope that you are able to find the most engaging ways for your students to learn and show you how much they know. And have loads of fun along the way!
Happy teaching and learning!
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