• Strategy Circles • Guided Reading • Book Clubs • Reciprocal Teaching

Strategy lessons:


Students build on their knowledge of retelling to recall important details. Students learn to discern what is most important to use in the retelling. Learning to retell a story thoughtfully is critical to learning to write a story and to build comprehension. Sometimes the student practices, referring to the book constantly, until the story is learned and the student feels confident enough to share. Students can use retelling cards, small props, puppets, story guideline posters, and even the book to help them as they learn to retell. As an assessment of what the student understands about the story, the student retells without rehearsing.

Learning targets

  1. I can determine what is important to tell when retelling a story.
  2. I can retell the events of a story in sequence.
  3. I can tell a story expressively, not using the words from the book exactly, but in my own words and voice.
  4. I can retell a story with correct facts.

Getting started: the facts, the sequence and the meaning

Retelling and summarizing actually are a part of synthesis. However, I decided students needed to study the two strategies separately early in the year. Students practice retelling and summarizing (the lowest levels of synthesis) before inferring, determining importance, forming their opinions, and changing their perspectives (the highest levels of synthesis).

Regie Routman stresses the importance of teaching students to retell in her book, Conversations. As I read her words, I was reminded of the need to emphasize this tool as a way of improving comprehension and writing.

To begin, I practiced retelling myself, as Routman suggests. When I worked with the book Talking Eggs, a book I've read many times, I found that I referred back to the text constantly to get the details right and in sequence. I had to retell aloud and check myself using the book before I was ready to share. With each rereading, I discovered I gained a better understanding of the story as well.

As a result of my retelling practice, which is not something I've done in a long time, I became excited about the benefits for students. I made my list of what I needed to teach them. I provide a list below of what I learned by practicing the strategy. I kindly suggest you experiment like I did so you have experience upon which to draw when you teach retelling.

  1. Tell the story. Don't memorize the author's words but develop a personal, storytelling voice.
  2. Use an expressive voice.
  3. Pick what is most important to tell.
  4. Tell details in the right order.
  5. Decide whether to include props or voices.
  6. Reread a lot to check the facts.
  7. It really takes a lot of practice to get retelling right.

If you think your students might benefit from some scaffolding in retelling, I share this idea I learned from a storyteller. She once suggested using a rope with knots tied in it as a way to remember each part of the story. The teller needs to think through the story and see it in parts in order to tell it. For example, to tell the story of the Three Little Pigs, the teller might decide to tie 5 knots: one for the beginning of the story, one for the first little pig, one for the second, one for the third pig, and one for the ending.

The storyteller began by telling a story we never heard before and then asked us to retell the story to our group. Holding the rope in my hand was a tactile reminder of the parts of the new story as I saw them. The rope helped me practice retelling the story to my small group in our workshop with confidence.

Similarly, retelling cards can cue the storyteller. The students learn to include the important parts of a story by referring to the cards I have made available on this site.

In addition, nonfiction retelling requires a different set of nonfiction retelling skills I provide to help students as well.

You might want to set up a retelling center for your students. After students have seen the use of these cards modeled, they will be ready to work independently.

Here's another tip: If you're an intermediate teacher, ask your K-2 colleagues how they teach retelling. As a school-wide coach, I discovered that upper-grade teachers often are unaware of what children studied before arriving at their classroom doors. Retelling is often the comprehension part of primary assessment. K-2 teachers have done a great deal of the legwork teaching retelling by the time students reach the third grade. In the upper grades, teachers can then build on what students already know.


Free downloads

Download these free lessons to get started teaching these concepts:

Retelling Station

Students work with a partner to practice retelling

Retelling Fiction Cards

Cards help students remember the main points of retelling fiction

Retelling Nonfiction Station

Lesson to help students retell nonfiction

Retelling Nonfiction Cards

Cards help with retelling nonfiction

Retelling Unit

Students retell and publish a book as a class, 2 partners per page so that students understand a narrative writing structure.

"Tell what's important... in a way that makes sense... without telling too much."

– Debbie Miller, Reading With Meaning

Copyright 2017 by Karen Haag