Young students are often asked to retell stories. In fact, from Kindergarten to Grade 3, the Common Core Standards explicitly ask students to be able to “retell [recount] stories." While this may not be the most engaging student task, it is one of the most straightforward ways to assess reading comprehension.
While you can easily find activities online that you can print and have students put familiar stories in sequence, this doesn't help student develop a passion for reading literature or gaining knowledge. Take a hint from the maker movement and excite students in retelling by asking them to create and customize. Here are some ideas to get you started.
Create an eBook library
Instead of distributing a worksheet asking students to put scenes in order, have students publish their retellings as eBooks. Post these on your schools web site or iTunes stream to create a digital collection.
Distribute the books to other students in the class for examples of authentic leveled readers! Who knows how to create a text both interesting to and written at the level of a first grader better than an actual first grader?
Retell in comic form
Retelling stories by creating a comic is a lot more exciting than a worksheet! The visual nature of comics helps students cement ideas through nonlinguistic representation.
Because of the limited space for text in a panel students must summarize, helping them learn to analyze the content of the story and evaluate which information is critical to share, an instructional strategy backed by research. (Marzano et al., 2001).
Extend stories with patterns
And its never to early to ask students to be authors themselves. Books with repeating patterns (a hallmark of literature for emerging readers) like Mary Wore Her Red Dress by Merle Peek are perfect starting point for young authors.
As you read the stories, the cadence of your voice and intonation will help them feel the pattern. Explicitly identify the pattern, and have them customize their own page. You can even start with a template, like this one my son came home with in Kindergarten.
Adapt a favorite story
Students in grades K-12 are expected to be able to "determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development" (Reading Anchor Standard 2) as well as "read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts" (Reading Anchor Standards 10). In the early grades this translates as more direct retelling, but if students truly comprehend ideas and themes, have them create their own adaptations of a story.
You see this in the common teacher practice of reading Cinderella stories from around the world or when students modernize a fairy tale. You can also have students create new endings to familiar stories or create variations of the same story.
Combining visuals with text gives students an opportunity to demonstrate learning without struggling to tell their story using only words. Recording student’s narration provides an opportunity for nonthreatening practice as they record, listen, record again, listen, and finally save. The recordings also provide performances you can use to assess fluency.
While there are lots of standards out there that touch on retelling, take it a step further and personalize retelling into me-telling. Yes, including photos of students as characters in the story is a great way to engage them in the story, but I am thinking more along the lines of first person accounts that demonstrate point of view and empathy.
In a literature context, this means going beyond identifying character traits and taking on the role of one of the characters. To give this an authentic spin, have students create a digital scrapbook for a character. Many kids have seen their parents creating scrapbooks about their lives. Yes students should collect photographs and visuals that relate to character traits and events, but developing a scrapbook for a particular character provides students an opportunity to:
- cite specific textual evidence (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.1)
- summarize the key supporting details and ideas (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.2)
- Analyze how and why individuals...develop and interact (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.3)
What students choose to put in the scrapbooks will indicate their knowledge about the character and their actions. They can include quotes from texts they are reading as well as write journal entries from the first-person perspective.
Writing in this way helps them develop empathy, a skill essential to design thinking and 21st century success.
Rather than a biography ABOUT a person or even a documentary on a time period, increase the thinking involved by having students create a docudrama about a specific person from history or animal in a particular habitat. This form of metelling is a great way to combine informational/expository and narrative writing in Science and Social Studies. It also provides a compelling opportunity to go beyond using information text to transforming it into a compelling narrative.
When retelling involves creating, student work looks and feels like the products they see in the world around them. Having students create to retell and put themselves into the retelling, motivates and engages them by providing a more personal connection to the content they are learning in the classroom.