Thursday, November 5, 2009

What should a good retelling include?

By fourth grade, students have been retelling for years. But retelling is something that students in all grades need to revisit and talk about. Today, I drew on their background knowledge of retelling to help them create a list of what to include as they retell. The lesson worked pretty well, and it wasn't difficult to do.

1. Students read "Mole and the Baby Bird" by Marjorie Newman. (Unfortunately, this is out of print. Any really short book with a clear, simple storyline would work)

2. I called students to the front to act out various parts as I retold the story. I said, "As I retell, I'm going to make some mistakes. Listen to what I do and then try to come up with a sentence to tell what I should do."

3. For the first time, I made up a story that included the characters, but went way beyond what happened in the story. (The student actors enjoyed themselves!) We wrote our first idea: Use only what is actually in the story.

4. Each actor went and chose a replacement. On the second time, I stuck with the general: "There was a guy who went to a place. He found a thing and decided to do something..." We had just spent a long time working on general/specific, and the students quickly raised their hands with suggestions. We wrote our second idea: Include specific details like character and setting names.

5. Again, replacement actors. I retold again, this time completely out of order. We came up with the third idea: Put the events in order.

6. For the final time, I just went back to the text and read it aloud in a monotone. This is one of the hardest parts of retelling, but the kids came up with our fourth and final directive: Put ideas into your own words.

And, when students went off on their own to retell, they did it completely perfectly!

Well, not really. After we made our chart, I put students in groups of three to retell the story. And the first five minutes were dreadful. Kids were off task, they were just reading, they were stuck. So I pulled everyone back together. On the board, we wrote what had gone well and what needed to be improved. Then, I regrouped students for another try.

This time, things went more smoothly. As I walked around and listened in, I could quickly hear which students were getting in and which needed more help. We ended our session by going back to the chart that we had created and talking about which ideas were the easiest (include specific character names) and which were the hardest (students said that putting ideas in their own words)

Why take the time to retell? I think that it's a necessary precursor to understanding and summarizing text. Retelling causes students to put the ideas from the story together and figure out how A leads to B. Retelling with partners lets students listen to one another, hearing other ways of expressing the same ideas.

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