Retelling is a comprehension strategy by which a student describes the events of a story. Primary students often struggle with the concept of retelling, choosing instead to repeat what they most recently read, rather than expressing a linear sequence of events. If your emergent reader struggles with this concept, try a tested strategy.
Model, Model, Model
First, and most importantly, model what you want to hear from your student. After reading together, retell the main events in the story to your child. Hearing how a retelling should sound is the first step in creating a reader who can apply what she has heard.
The 5 W's
Focus on the who, what, when, where and why of the story. For early readers, assign each of their fingers one of the 5 W’s and have them tick down a finger as they talk about that aspect of the story. When all five fingers are down, their retelling should be complete.
First, Next, Then, Last
Encourage the student to use the key words first, next, then and last in retelling, thus keeping the student focused on the linear nature of the plot. For example, when first beginning work on the skill, prompt the student by saying, “What happened first in the story?” Once the child provides an answer to the initial question, you can draw more information out of her by prompting with the remaining key words.
Characters, Problem, Solution
Ask the student to center her response around the characters, problem and solution. Use the following prompts to focus her retelling:
Who are the characters in the story?
What is the problem in the story?
How do the characters solve the problem (i.e. what is the solution)?
Once the child gets used to answering those key questions, she will be able to fluently retell a story without the need for prompts.
Beginning, Middle, End
You can substitute these key terms for characters, problem and solution if necessary. Again, these words provide a linear structure on which the student can focus, helping her better structure a response.
Overall, modeling what you want to hear from your child is often the most influential method of helping a student structure a complete and coherent retelling. So much goes on in the brain of an emergent reader as she tries to process and decode the text that having structured examples to follow when retelling will help take a bit of the pressure off of the child. Remember, modeling once what you want is never enough for a primary level student. Repetition and practice are key.
- When Readers Struggle: Teaching that Works; I. Fountas and G. Pinnell
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