Meaning Matters

Guiding the development of young readers through the use of meaningful literacy experiences


5 Retelling Activities to Increase Our Youngest Readers' Story Comprehension

Posted by meaningmatters on September 14, 2012 at 2:15 PM

5 Retelling Activities to Increase Our Youngest Readers' Story Comprehension

Written by Kim Turgeon

Research has documented that retelling as a post-reading activity is more effective than teacher questioning in building comprehension (Gambrell et al., 1991).

I remember sitting in class as a first grader and madly reading book after book to get to the next level of SRA. I would read just to answer the questions and move on to the next color book. My satisfaction came from completing a color level rather than the content I read. I can guarantee that if I had been asked to retell the story I would have had very little information to give. I viewed reading as solely a decoding activity and not a meaning making process.

The focus of comprehension instruction has shifted in recent years. The importance of the reader being an active participant in the reading process and reading being seen as a social, rather than a solitary activity is a significant change. Two books related to comprehension instruction that I feel are must reads are Mosaic of Thought By Ellin Oliver Keene and Susan Zimmermann (although written for teachers I think that parents would also find it enjoyable and insightful) and The Café by Gail Boushey and Joan Moser. Both of these books offer teachers ideas for helping students activate schema and develop a host of specific comprehension strategies. Not only will they guide you in your classroom instruction, they will also increase your metacognitive awareness of your own reading.

Skills such as inferring are further developed the more we give children retelling experiences. Engaging readers with familiar stories through repeated readings and diverse retelling activities strengthens early readers' comprehension skills. Children as young as preschool can retell nursery rhymes and repetitive texts. Just think about all the times you have heard your toddler retell Chicka Chicka Boom Boom!


Here are 5 Engaging Activities to Help Young Children Retell stories:

1. Retelling bracelet:

Have children create a bracelet using a green bead for the beginning, a red bead for the ending and 3 or more other beads for the middle. As children retell a story have them slide a bead from left to right for the beginning and then another bead for each story component. With younger children I would use three detail (middle beads) however, you may wish to increase the number with older students. 

2. Retelling Necklace:

Print out pictures representing significant parts of a story. Below is an example using the animals from Brown Bear Brown Bear. Have children use the picture cards to prompt them in their retelling of a story and then slide the card over their head on the necklace.

3.Retelling Mail:

Create story sequence cards, place them in an envelope, and send it home for children to enjoy with their families. On the cover of the envelope write a short note asking parents to have their children retell the enclosed story. 

4. Brown Bag Retelling:

Place a copy of a short song, poem, or nursery rhyme on the cover of a brown bag. Inside the bag place props or other materials to help the child with the retelling of it. Below is an example of a Jack Be Nimble bag. Enclosed in the bag are cards with the names of the children in the class and corresponding pictures. Children pull out a name card and retell the rhyme inserting their peers' name.  


5. Flannel Board retelling:

Create pictures to support your favorite fairy tales, nursery rhymes, or stories. Put Velcro on the back of laminated pictures and "presto," you have a flannel board retelling activity. Have children orally retell the story as they place the cards on the flannel board. Nursery rhymes are perfect for preschool children to retell. They are easy to break down into 4 or 5 simple drawings and are familiar and engaging for young children. 

When children retell stories in a comprehensive manner, they reflect on the text and make distinctions between the actual words on the page and the meaning behind them (Gambrell, et al., 1991).

Retelling may be more difficult for children who struggle with expressive language or memory. They may struggle with providing sufficient detail in their retellings. However, by using a variety of retelling activities and props teachers can provide students with the scaffolding needed to be successful.

Kim Turgeon & Lauren Mitsis , copyright, ©2012. All rights reserved.

Categories: Reading, Mini-lessons, Fluency

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Reply Jackie@My Little Bookcase
8:41 AM on July 15, 2013 
I think the retelling bracelet is wonderful.
Reply laura
8:51 PM on November 1, 2013 
Reply Michael
11:55 AM on June 27, 2014 
Working with a child with Autism