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Dr. Joanne Meier

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Alternatives to oral retellings

July 27, 2011

Many teachers and parents ask children to retell a story as a quick, informal way to assess a child's comprehension. Retelling can work well, but it's not without its pitfalls. For starters, it can be difficult to keep a group's attention while one student is doing a retelling. For another, a student may leave out an entire part of the story (that he understood) merely because he accidentally left it out. If the adult is familiar with the story, it's easy to step in and ask a question about the missing part. If you're not familiar with the book, it's tough to know whether something important was left out.

Over on All About Comprehension, Sharon Taberski provides two alternatives to a traditional oral retelling that could be used with all students, but would be particularly useful for young or ELL students. The strategies include Somebody-Wanted-But-So, and the Five-Finger Retelling. Briefly, from Sharon's post, the ideas:

Somebody: Who is the story about?
Wanted: What did this character want?
But: But what happened?
So: How did it end? What happened next?

And the Five-Finger Retell, where each finger represents one aspect of story grammar.

Thumb: The characters are...
1st finger: The setting is...
Tall finger: The problem is...
Ring finger: The events are... (What happened first? Next? Then?)
Little finger: At the end...

Sharon suggests these could be done as written responses, but I think they would work well as oral responses too.


Thank YOU so much for this..I finally have the issue of story retelling, with my 6 yr old daughter,resolved brilliantly:)

These are two great tips for retelling stories. I particularly like the hand technique because it gives kids something to "hold onto."

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"Books make great gifts because they have whole worlds inside of them. " — Neil Gaiman