One of the best ways to tell how well a child understands a story is by asking them to retell it. When we assess comprehension sometimes we ask kids to sequence important parts, draw or write the beginning, middle and end of the story – or list the story elements – characters, setting, problem, events and solution. I loved encouraging the children to act out stories, which requires them to think through all the events and the order they happen.
I usually introduced the idea of acting out stories and retelling them with simple fairy tales. These common stories are often already familiar to the children and that helps them feel confident taking on the roles and acting out the events.
I found some great books that I used often to make retelling props.
This book had masters of 2 sided, stand up props for many fairy tales, that I reproduced, colored and laminated. I always read different versions of fairy tales but when I used props and just retold the story it really modeled for the children what retelling sounds like. Sometimes I copied these for the children to make and take home to retell the stories too.
This book contains 6 pictures for each story. They were very helpful for children to use as props to help themselves retell stories. Just sequencing these pictures into the right order helped them think through the events. Sometimes I had the children write a simple sentence for each event. Other times I asked the children to draw their own pictures to retell the sequence of a story.
This book was another good resource for sequencing pictures, stick puppets, etc. I used all of these books a lot, but I had them for years and I am not sure they are still available.
To introduce the idea of remembering the beginning, middle and end of a story I used pictures of an apple. I cut out a construction paper apple – with a stem and leaf. Then I made another one but cut out a jagged bite shape. Then I cut out an apple core – with the same stem and leaf at the top.
I made up a silly story telling – I set out the 3 apples in mixed up order and told the children – first I took a bite out of an apple, then I picked it off the tree, then I ate it all up. Of course they would chime in that my story did not make sense. I played around and said – “Oh, I know! I ate it all up, THEN I picked it off the tree, THEN I took the first bite.” Finally the children would tell me the correct order. We would have a discussion about how a story doesn’t make sense unless it is in the right order, and that most stories have a beginning, middle and end.
Sometimes I used clipart pictures of an apple, an apple with a bite removed, and a core – as symbols for the children to draw/write the beginning, middle and end of a story. At the beginning of the year I took dictation, if I did an activity like this later the children would write phonetically.
To introduce story elements I found and made up pictures to symbolize characters, setting, problem, events and resolution. I put each of these pictures on a 9 x 6 paper and laminated them, so I could hold it up when we were talking about each story element. I don’t have these cards now but I included these pictures in the post about narrative text features.
As well as using them as a teaching tool about the story elements, I sometimes used them as a reminder of what I wanted the children to draw and write.
Later in the year I provided lines for the children to write – this master does not have the clipart pictures because I cut and pasted them on – they were not on my computer, but I did still include the pictures as reminders for the children.
After the children gained confidence acting out and retelling simple fairy tales, I continued acting out and retelling stories all year. The children loved taking on roles and acting out the stories, and it really helped them internalize and remember the sequence of events. Before I asked the children to retell a story either orally or by drawing or writing, we always acted it out with some kind of props. Sometimes we used the stand up figures, sometimes we used headbands or necklaces with characters for the children to act out the stories, sometimes we made stick puppets.
Acting out and retelling stories really helps children develop a sense of story, and also the idea that when we read we need to make meaning from the story. The children use vocabulary from the story, gain confidence speaking, remember the sequence of events, but most of all they have lots of fun. All this practice retelling stories helps when the children write their own stories too!
I saved some of the retelling props I used for different stories and I will be sharing them soon!