My husband frequently sees clients in the early evening and arrives home juuuuuust in time for bedtime read-aloud. And sometimes, he misses or arrives in the middle of reading. “What did I miss?” he asks as he grabs dinner and sits down to listen.
One of my kids eagerly jumps in to catch him up on what’s been happening in the story so far. As their dad has asks questions about setting, characters, and plot details, my kids are learning what story elements are important to include in order to “catch Dad up.” Over time, they’ve become great at story retelling.
Did you know that, while they’re helping Dad feel a part of our family story culture, my kids are also developing key literacy skills?
Story retelling is an important activity that
-Develops sequencing skills
-Helps build comprehension and knowledge of story structures such as characters, setting, main events (including problem/solution)
-Engages listeners in the storytelling process (Dunst, C., Simbus, A., and Hamby, D., 2012)
There are lots of ways to encourage your children to retell a story to you, but one I DON’T encourage is a cold retelling without a rationale or context. Like a quiz. Not fun. Instead, recognize (or create) an authentic purpose for retelling.
At our house, we have a natural opportunity at the beginning of a night’s reading: “Now, where were we?” “_________, why don’t you catch us up on what happened last night?”
With our new Read-Aloud Poster for The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, we’ve been re-entering the story each time we read by placing our character markers (we take them off and put away our poster each time we finish reading). “Now, where was __________?” and “Now, how did they get there?” are natural prompts that help encourage at least a partial retelling each night. If you leave your poster and character markers out between readings, you may find your kids spontaneously retelling the story without you!
-Stop at multiple points throughout a longer book - there’s no need to wait until the end - in fact, it’s better not to, especially for younger children.
- You can be the first reteller and model including characters, setting, and main events as you retell the story to that point. Then on other nights, someone else can take over.
-What it’s not: a quiz or a performance - don’t put pressure on that doesn’t need to be there! It’s a chance for them to rehearse and review the events of the story, practice the language, and build their skill.
-It’s okay for story retelling to be a collaborative experience. (Remember, it’s not a quiz!) At our house, everyone is anxious to tell their favorite parts, so we all take turns. This can also help younger children gain confidence until they’re ready to do it on their own.
-Eventually you will want kids to be able to retell the story on their own. What if they get stuck? Rather than filling in the blanks for them, here are some helpful prompts:
-What happens next?
-Then what did they do?
-What did he say?
-Do take note if their retelling is missing multiple important story events or confusing sequencing or characters. This is a good opportunity for clarification; consistent confusion indicates that they’re not understanding the story well.
-If questions or gaps in understanding come up, fill them in together or look back in the book.
Remember, story retelling is a SKILL that improves with opportunities to practice. Also, expect different levels of detail and sophistication from kids of different developmental levels and experience. This will grow with practice and support.
Fun and helpful
In our poster for The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, our Story Board and Character markers provide concrete prompts to aid in story retelling, but they’re not required. However, you might find that they’re especially helpful for younger children who are new to story retelling, and they’re fun to make and use! You could do the same thing for other books using puppets, Lego® minifigures or Little People® you’ve used in other play, or peg dolls that you paint yourself to match the character descriptions in the book. Children won’t need or want to use these helpers for every book you read together, but they’re a great way to build skill and engagement.
Resources and Citations
Dunst, C., Simkus, A., and Hamby, D. (2012). Children’s Story Retelling as a Literacy and Language Enhancement Strategy. Retrieved from http://www.earlyliteracylearning.org/cellreviews/cellreviews_v5_n2.pdf, January 2022.
Isbell, R. T. (2002). Telling and Retelling Stories. Retrieved from https://www.naeyc.org/sites/default/files/globally-shared/downloads/PDFs/resources/pubs/isbell_article_march_2002.pdf, December 2021.
Morrow, L.M. (1985). Retelling Stories: A strategy for improving young children’s comprehension, concept of story structure, and oral language complexity. Elementary School Journal, 85, 647-661.
Rogers, Jessica. (2018). Comprehension Strategy; Retell a Story. Retrieved from https://rogerseducationconsulting.com/2018/04/12/comprehension-strategy-retell-a-story/, February 2022.