In a recent workshop, several teachers shared with me that their administration discouraged them from using retelling in the classroom. Apparently, they were told that by the intermediate grades of 4-6, they should be focusing on summarizing, and should not use retelling at all.
I think this is misguided. Telling teachers to avoid retelling keeps them from a wonderful strategy that helps students to understand text, make connections, and build background knowledge. I think that retelling is a suitable activity for all classrooms, from kindergarten and up. Here’s why.
Retelling is authentic
Summarizing gets all the press as being a great thinking strategy. But having kids write formal summaries for every text is overkill (and just plain mean!) In real life, readers are far more likely to retell a text than to write a summary to share. Providing students with opportunities to retell every text, and write formal summaries of SOME texts, is more realistic.
Retelling builds multiple representations of text
Graham Nuthall, a researcher from New Zealand, performed extensive studies of how kids learn in a classroom. He found that information that is represented in multiple ways—visual, auditory, and so forth—is far more likely to be remembered. (Elementary School Journal, v99 n4 p303-41 Mar 1999)
When students retell, they are using many representations. They are talking, they are listening, they are moving little figures around to show the action, they are pointing to pictures. These representations will help them to remember not only the information and details from the text, but also the key points that a retelling should include.
Retelling builds connections
Retelling helps students to make inferences and build connections. If you doubt this, pay attention to your own processes as you retell a story or a nonfiction article. Retelling brings the ideas from the text into the working memory, where they can be linked to old information to form inferences. When students retell together, they can pool their schema and learn from one another.
Retelling helps students to see what’s important
As students work on summarizing, they struggle with figuring out which ideas are important. Their summaries often go on and on, even getting to be as long as the original text. (And they look so proud when they show these super-long summaries to you!) It’s easy to help kids figure out what’s really important with speed retellings. Can you retell the story in 2 minutes? One minute? Which ideas should you leave out? Which do you have to include?
Retelling is fun!
I hate a silent classroom. There is something about it that just makes me edgy. So I like the productive hum of retelling. Kids like it, too.
So, just because your students are past the primary stage is no reason to give up retelling. Try it out in your classroom!