Literacy Strategy: How to Teach Retelling (2023)

Retelling is a short, consistent routine students can use to recall, order, and summarize a text. With this retelling routine, students practice important comprehension skills, including:

  • Determining key details
  • Understanding text structure
  • Making inferences
  • Synthesizing the main idea

You can use this retelling routine to help students retell both nonfiction and fiction texts. You can also use this retelling routine to monitor comprehension.

Watch: See retelling in action

Watch this video from EL Education to see how a first-grade teacher uses retelling with a nonfiction text.

Download: Printable graphic organizer for retelling

Retelling Graphic OrganizerPDF

Read: How to teach retelling

Objective:Students will identify, organize, and retell key details of a text to show their understanding.

Grade levels (with standards):

Explore topics selected by our experts

  • Literacy Strategy: How to Teach Retelling (1)

    Reading and writing

  • Literacy Strategy: How to Teach Retelling (2)

    School supports

  • Literacy Strategy: How to Teach Retelling (3)

    Strategies and tips

  • K (Common Core Literacy RL.K.2: With prompting and support, retell familiar stories, including key details; Common Core Literacy RI.K.2: With prompting and support, identify the main topic and retell key details of a text)
  • 1 (Common Core Literacy RL.1.2: Retell stories, including key details, and demonstrate an understanding of their central message or lesson; Common Core Literacy RI.1.2: Identify the main topic and retell key details of a text)

Best used for instruction with:

  • Whole class
  • Small groups
  • Individuals

How to prepare:

Choose a fiction or nonfiction text (or allow students to choose from a few options). The text should take no more than three to five minutes to read aloud. Make sure to choose a reading level where students can decode the words and read the text fluently. You can also provide an audio version of the text. For English language learners (ELLs), it's helpful to provide the text in a student’s home language, if available.

Pre-read the text and identify the key details. Before the lesson, take a few minutes to read the text to help you choose which retelling activities to use for this particular text. Pre-reading can also help you figure out what background knowledge students need. As you pre-read, focus on the following:

  • Fiction: Identify key characters, setting, conflict, resolution, and other key events.
  • Nonfiction: Identify topic, author’s purpose, main idea, and two to four supporting details.

Consider your students’ needs. Use recent data from formative and summative assessments, like the Developmental Reading Assessment (DRA), to assess each student’s current retelling skills. This information can help you decide how to best support all your students. See the table below for options for providing differentiated levels of support.

How to teach:

1. Explicitly model the retelling routine. You can model the routine using a very short text or the first section of a text.

2. Explain what you expect students to do. You might say, “Today we are going to read a story two times. After we finish the first time, you’re going to tell me about it. Then, we’ll read the story again. When I finish the second time, you’ll do another activity to retell the story.” Pause to check that students understand the activity. Ask, “What are we going to do today?” You can display a list on chart paper as avisual reminder of the steps in the routine.

3. Preview the text. Start by looking at the title and any subtitles or pictures with the students. Talk about whether the text is fiction or nonfiction. Then, activate prior knowledge by having students turn and talk with a partner to answer questions like, “What do you know about this topic?” or “What do the pictures make you think of?”

4. Read or listen to the text. In some cases, you may want students to read. In other cases, you may wish to read the text aloud or give students the option to listen to an audio version. For instance, if students struggle with working memory or attention, you may opt to give them an audio version so they can pause and rewind as needed.

5. Ask students to do an initial retelling. Students can show their understanding by retelling verbally, in writing, or drawing. Don’t use any supports at this point. You want to gauge their initial understanding of the text and find the “gaps” (if any) in their comprehension.

For ELLs: Invite ELLs to retell the text initially in their home language. If you have more than one student who speaks the same home language, put them in a group to talk about the text and then share a summary in English.

6. Reread the text. Students can read it, you can read it, or use the audio version.

7. Ask students to do one of the following retelling activities with support:

  • Five-finger retelling: Have students hold up one hand. Explain that each finger represents a part of the retelling: who (characters/key figures), what (conflict/key events), where (setting), when (setting), and why (resolution/motives). Ask students to orally retell the five W’s of text— pointing to each finger as they go. For visual support, create an anchor chart that shows a hand with each finger labeled. Display the chart so students can refer to it as they retell.
  • Picture/props retell: Gather some materials, like printed pictures from the text, puppets, or other related props. Lay the materials in front of students and ask them to retell the text using the materials.(This type of retelling is best for individuals or small groups so all students can actively engage.)
  • Sequence retell: Give students the retelling graphic organizer. Have them point to the sequence word in each rectangle (first, then, next, and last) as they orally retell the story. Or students can draw pictures or write in the boxes for their retell. If students write, prompt them to use 10 words or fewer for each box.

8. Provide differentiated levels of support. Use this table for options to support your students during retelling activities:

Students’ retelling levelSupports
All students (Use regardless of current skill level)
  • Provide a retelling graphic organizer or an anchor chart of sequence words (first, next, then, last).

  • Allow students to refer to the text as needed.

  • Allow students to write down or draw important details.

Simple (Includes key details, describes major events, retells text in order)

  • Preview sequence words or story plot lines as needed.

  • During text reading, pause as needed to prompt students by asking, “Then what happened?” (After repeated practice, students can prompt each other or themselves.)

  • Provide a word bank with key vocabulary and/or pictures.

More complex (Has all of the above skills, plus use of key vocabulary and details not directly stated in the text)

  • As needed, provide students with a word bank of key vocabulary.

  • Develop targeted questions to prompt students to make complex inferences, predictions, or elaborations. These questions can also be printed on handouts or notecards for students to use on their own or with a partner. Examples:

    • “Why did the character do that?”

    • “How did that action help the character?”

    • “Can you tell me more about X detail?”

    • “What do you think will happen next?”

Most complete (All of the above skills, plus makes connections to prior learning, elaborates on important details, and evaluates the text)

  • At the end of the retell, prompt students to evaluate the text by asking questions. Examples:

    • “Why do you think the author wrote this story?”

    • “What lesson does the reader learn from this story?”

Understand: Why this strategy works

Retelling is a complex skill. It takes knowledge of text structure, understanding of vocabulary, and the ability to recall and summarize. It’s a valuable skill, too. Research has found that retelling promotes comprehension and vocabulary development.

For students who struggle with memory, attention, or language processing, a predictable retelling routine— with support— helps them internalize the skill. Because students know what to expect, they’re more likely to check their understanding while they read or listen.

When students follow the retelling routine, they engage with the text more than once. That’s particularly helpful for students who struggle with working memory or language processing. When they read the text the first time, they can read for a general understanding. Their first retelling can help you find any gaps in their understanding and be ready to ask specific questions. When students read the text for a second time with support, they can focus more on the details— making them more likely to experience success.

For all students— and particularly for ELLs— previewing the text and reading multiple times gives them many chances to interact with new vocabulary and text structures. Pictures (including images from the text), props, or word banks all give students vocabulary practice in different formats. Also, when students retell, they have to use words they read or heard in the text. This means more chances for oral and written language development, as well as practice building comprehension skills.

Connect: Link school to home

In an upcoming email or newsletter to families, tell them how they can practice retelling at home. Or you might model the activity at a family event so they can see it in action. You can use language like this:

In class, we are practicing how to retell what we’ve read. That means we read a short text (fiction or nonfiction). Then, students say in their own words what they have read. Being able to retell is an important reading skill.

You can practice retelling at home with any book (or even just a few pages of a book) you read with your child. You can do this in as little as 15 minutes in one sitting. Here are the five easy steps:

  1. Preview the book. Talk about the title and pictures with your child.
  2. Read the book. You can read the book, your child can read the book, or you can read it together.
  3. Ask your child to retell what they read. Don’t give too many hints or ask too many questions. The retelling will give you a good idea of what your child understood.
  4. Reread the book.
  5. Ask your child to retell again. This time, ask your child to hold up one hand to do the five-finger retell. For this activity, your child will use different fingers to represent five different parts of retelling the book: who (characters/key figures), what (conflict/key events), where (setting), when (also the setting), and why (resolution/motives). Your child will point to each finger while retelling. If your child has trouble, look back at the book for clues.

If you have a chance to practice this week, write back and let me know how it went. If your child has trouble with retelling, I can give you some other ideas to practice. Together we can help your child become a better reader.

Research behind this strategy

    Related topics

    • Reading and writing

    • School supports

    • Strategies and tips


    Literacy Strategy: How to Teach Retelling? ›

    Retelling is the process of recalling the events that happened in a story in order from the beginning, middle, to end. Retelling is used to promote comprehension, which is the process of understanding what is being read and building on the information learned by connecting it with other stories or real-life events.

    What is the literacy strategy retelling? ›

    Retelling is the process of recalling the events that happened in a story in order from the beginning, middle, to end. Retelling is used to promote comprehension, which is the process of understanding what is being read and building on the information learned by connecting it with other stories or real-life events.

    What are some retelling strategies? ›

    10 Tips For Retelling A Classic Tale
    • Read The Original Tale. This is really important. ...
    • Make A List Of Characters. This is important. ...
    • Make A List Of Settings. ...
    • Make A List Of Major Plot Points. ...
    • Make A List Of Scenes & Sequels. ...
    • Identify The Theme. ...
    • Decide On A Motif. ...
    • Come Up With The Retelling Twist.
    Feb 4, 2021

    How do you teach rereading strategy? ›

    One example of how to use rereading is the Pause-Think-Retell strategy outlined here. The site states: "Encourage children to pause after each chapter; once or twice during a picture book; and after each section of a textbook. Show them how you stop, think, and then retell in order to monitor how much you recall.

    What is the high five retell strategy? ›

    The High Five strategy is a reading comprehension learning strategy that consists of five steps, namely activating background knowledge, questioning, analyzing text structure, creating mental images, and summarizing. This strategy is believed to be able to improve students' reading comprehension skills.

    What is an example of retelling? ›

    Examples of retellings with a new protagonist: Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire: a retelling of L. Frank Baum's The Wizard of Oz from the perspective of the Wicked Witch. A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes: a retelling of the Trojan War from the women's point of view.

    What are the elements of retelling? ›

    They are the characters, setting, plot, conflict and resolution.

    Is retelling a comprehension skill? ›

    Retell is used widely as a measure of reading comprehension.

    What are the elements of story retelling? ›

    Every story has four elements: characters, setting, problem, and solution.

    Is rereading a literacy strategy? ›

    Rereading books provides an opportunity to develop a deep understanding of a book's plot or character development something not possible reading a book once. Exploring the text and illustrations helps children delve into the story's message and make new connections, preparing them for more complex narratives.

    How is retelling a strategy for enhancing students reading comprehension? ›

    Here are the five easy steps:
    1. Preview the book. Talk about the title and pictures with your child.
    2. Read the book. You can read the book, your child can read the book, or you can read it together.
    3. Ask your child to retell what they read. ...
    4. Reread the book.
    5. Ask your child to retell again.

    What are 3 important reading strategies? ›

    The three different types of reading strategies are skimming, scanning, and in-depth reading.

    What is the five finger rule retelling? ›

    The Five Finger Retell Reading Strategy is designed to help students recall the five key elements of a story. The five key elements of a story are the setting, characters, problems, events, and solution. When a reader can recall these five key elements, he or she should be able to successfully summarize most stories.

    Is retelling an essential literacy strategy? ›

    Retelling is an active reading strategy that helps students monitor their comprehension and supports their understanding of a text. Students have to read a text, think about the text, and then retell in their own words what the text is about.

    What is the 5 finger rule? ›

    They read the page and hold up one finger for every word they don't know or can't pronounce. The number of fingers they're holding up by the end of the page tells them if the book is the right level: 0-1 fingers: It's too easy. 2-3 fingers: It's just right. 4-5 fingers: It's too hard (or best read aloud with a buddy).

    Why is retelling an important skill? ›

    Why is story retell important? Learning to retell a story is an important skill for building reading comprehension and writing skills in young children. Children need to develop story telling skills in a spoken format before they can apply them to a written format – to understand stories and to write stories.

    Why teach retelling a story? ›

    The importance of retelling stories is that it allows students to learn to organize and describe events, which enhances reading comprehension. Story retelling provides ELLs an opportunity to analyze stories and build oral language as they acquire related vocabulary (Schienkman, 2004).

    What is the difference between rewrite and retelling? ›

    A retelling often only takes inspiration from the original but has its own details and characters. A rewrite is often keeping only the characters or the general idea and building it back up from scratch.

    What is the literacy strategy summarizing? ›

    Summarizing teaches students how to discern the most important ideas in a text, how to ignore irrelevant information, and how to integrate the central ideas in a meaningful way. Teaching students to summarize improves their memory for what is read. Summarization strategies can be used in almost every content area.

    What are the four literacy strategies? ›

    Teachers model, then help students learn to guide group discussions using four strategies: summarizing, question generating, clarifying, and predicting. Once students have learned the strategies, they take turns assuming the role of teacher in leading a dialogue about what has been read.

    What is the difference between summarizing and retelling? ›

    The main difference is that a retell includes everything (main ideas and details) while a summary is more condensed and focused on main ideas. Students paraphrase when they restate information in their own words, which they do when they retell or summarize.

    Is retelling part of comprehension? ›

    Retell is used widely as a measure of reading comprehension.

    What are 5 summarizing strategies? ›

    These questions make it easy to identify the main character, important details, and main idea.
    • Who is the story about?
    • What did they do?
    • When did the action take place?
    • Where did the story happen?
    • Why did the main character do what s/he did?
    • How did the main character do what s/he did?
    Jul 3, 2020

    What are the 3 strategies in summarizing? ›

    Strategies for summarizing
    • Select a short passage (about one to four sentences) that supports an idea in your paper.
    • Read the passage carefully to fully understand it.
    • Take notes about the main idea and supporting points you think you should include in your summary.
    Dec 8, 2022

    What are the 3 summarizing techniques? ›

    There are three important summarization techniques. They are selection, rejection and substitution.

    What are the 7 strategies of literacy? ›

    To improve students' reading comprehension, teachers should introduce the seven cognitive strategies of effective readers: activating, inferring, monitoring-clarifying, questioning, searching-selecting, summarizing, and visualizing-organizing.

    What are the 7 C's of literacy? ›

    The seven skills are: • Collaboration • Communication • Creativity • Critical Thinking • Character • Citizenship • Computational Thinking If we believe our work as teachers is mainly to prepare students for successful futures, then we should give opportunities for students to strengthen these skills.

    What is an essential literacy strategy examples? ›

    18 Essential Literacy Strategies
    • Predicting. Making predictions about what will happen next in a text is one essential literacy strategy. ...
    • Questioning. Questioning is another very important literacy strategy to help children develop. ...
    • Brainstorming. ...
    • Visualization. ...
    • Drawing. ...
    • Rhythm, Rhyme, and Music. ...
    • Movement. ...
    • Drama and Role Play.

    Is repetition a reading strategy? ›

    Repeated reading usually leads to better reading performance. The biggest payoffs tend to be with word reading, but it also has been found to improve oral reading fluency and reading comprehension (the most frequently reported area of improvement).

    Why is rereading a good strategy? ›

    Rereading promotes greater Reading Fluency and accuracy in reading, while also supporting deeper comprehension of the text. Reiterating the practice of rereading as a positive habit builds students' confidence in their reading.


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