Thursday, July 15, 2010

Retelling in the Intermediate Grades

At a workshop last year, two teachers told me that their principal frowned upon retelling. Because they taught at the intermediate level, they said, their principal said that they should be focused more on summarizing, and less on retelling.

I think this is a misguided view that reflects assessment more than instruction. It's true that reading assessment in the intermediate grades focuses more on summarizing than retelling. On the DRA and the PSSA, students are asked to summarize instead of retell.

However, from an instructional viewpoint, retelling offers benefits for students of all levels. When students retell, they have to go beyond a surface level understanding of a text, delving deeper as they try to put ideas into their own words. Often, retelling will cause readers to generate new inferences and new ideas. Retelling requires some serious thinking!

Retelling is also an authentic activity. While adults don't often sit down to write summaries, they do often retell. What happened on that show last night? What is the twist ending to the movie? What went on at that faculty meeting? These conversations lead to retelling.

Many retelling materials are geared toward younger students. Older readers, however, need different scaffolds and different prompts. As stories become more sophisticated, students need to use words like "meanwhile" and "however" to explain the events. Students need to figure out how to explain events that happen from the point of view of one character only, how to deal with complex timelines, and how to explain information that one character knows, but other characters don't.

If you're starting out with retelling with intermediate students, I suggest starting with a short television show. Shows like "Word Girl" or "Phineas and Ferb" offer interesting plots in a very short time frame. These are a great shared experience to use as the basis for retelling. (What's interesting about "Phineas and Ferb" is that each episode contains two distinct storylines, which makes it a good challenge for students as they try to retell.)

As you move into text, it helps to give students something tangible to hold and move as they retell. Some students do not think about how characters move in time and space through the course of a story. Retelling with pictures or figures helps them to conceptualize this and "see" the story.

Here are some materials to support retelling:

Retelling Stories: Resources for Intermediate Students

Retold in 60 Seconds

The Magic Key

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