Story Sequence

Sequencing refers to the identification of the components of a story — the beginning, middle, and end — and also to the ability to retell the events within a given text in the order in which they occurred. The ability to sequence events in a text is a key comprehension strategy, especially for narrative texts. Sequencing is also an important component of problem-solving across subjects.

When to use: Before reading During reading After reading
How to use: Individually With small groups Whole class setting

What is story sequence?

Story sequence is the order in which events take place in a narrative. In simplest terms, sequencing a story means identifying the main narrative components — the beginning, middle, and end—as a first step towards retelling the events of the story in logical order. Story sequencing is also a precursor for more sophisticated ways of understanding narrative text structure, such as determining cause and effect, which students will need to access more complex text.

Why teach story sequence?

  • The ability to sequence events in a text is a key comprehension strategy, especially for narrative texts.
  • It enables retelling, which in turn enables summarizing.
  • It promotes self-monitoring and rereading.
  • The ability to place events or steps in logical order is invaluable across the curriculum, whether it’s identifying the steps for solving a math problem or the series of events that led to a turning point in history.

How to teach story sequence

Story sequencing is often introduced and practiced in the context of a whole-class read-aloud. You might choose to teach a standalone sequencing lesson or to include sequencing as part of a longer lesson leading to oral or written retelling of the story.

Read-aloud texts that work well for introducing story sequencing have straightforward narrative arcs and clear sequences of events. Sequencing can also help students make sense of more complex narrative structures, such as stories that are written out of chronological order or that include parallel accounts of the same events from more than one point of view.

There are many ways to structure a sequencing lesson, from creating an anchor chart with student input to having the students participate actively by “holding the pen” or coming to the front of the class to reorder movable pictures or sentence strips.

Watch a demonstration: Greedy Cat: retelling a story sequence (grades K-1)

The teacher explains that asking students to retell stories both orally and in writing helps them structure their retells with a beginning, middle, and an end. The teacher works with students who have difficulty writing independently by having them sound out the words and at times, writes them in for students as needed. Find more teacher tips for this activity here.

Watch a classroom lesson: sequencing with How the Grinch Stole Christmas (grade 2, whole-class)

The teacher reviews sequencing with the class and guides the students through identifying the beginning, middle, and end of a whole-class read-aloud while creating an anchor chart. The lesson uses pair conversations to build student engagement and accountability. 

Watch a classroom lesson: sequencing with The Snowy Day (grades K-1, independent work)

Starting with a read-aloud, the teacher introduces the students to a sequencing activity they will be doing independently in which they fill in previously introduced sequencing words and match pictures representing events in the story to the sequencing words. (Watch from 8:09)

Collect resources

Story maps provide one way to help students organize the events from a story. Consider downloading story map template 1 or story map template 2

Transition or signal words that indicate a sequence (first, second, last) can help structure a sequencing lesson. Consider downloading Story map template 1 or Story map template 2. 

Sequence sticks, story chains, story retelling ropes, and story sequence crafts all help students practice ordering events within a story. See these resources for ideas:

Differentiate instruction

For English-learners, readers of different ability levels, or students needing extra support, consider:

  • Scaffolding instruction by providing prompts for each section of the story map you are using. For example, in the "Beginning" box of your map, write in prompts such as: Who is the story about? Where does the story happen?
  • Varying the complexity of story maps and sequencing words used. Some students may benefit from the very simple beginning-middle-end format. More complex sequences, such as first-next-then-last, can be used with students who are ready.
  • Using wordless books. There are many wordless books that can be used for sequencing with younger students and with English language learners or students with limited English proficiency. For younger students, Pancakes for Breakfast by Tomie dePaola, which humorously details a woman making pancakes from scratch, or the wordless adventures by Mark Newgarden about a small dog named Bow-Wow (e.g., Bow-Wow Bugs a Bug) are good options. Books by Barbara Lehmann and David Weisner are helpful for older or more sophisticated students practicing sequencing.
  • Using books in translation for picture sequencing activities. Providing English-learners with a copy of the text in their first language allows them to participate in sequencing and demonstrate their understanding of the concept and the content.
  • Modeling sequencing with a smaller group of students using a familiar book with a very clear narrative structure to help students understand each story component.

Extend the learning

Writing

Students can use sequencing words and charts to help them write summaries of texts they have read or heard. They can also use sequencing as a pre-writing technique for planning their own writing or use a sequencing word anchor chart as a writing tool.

Flip chart examples of transition words first, next, then, and last

Math

Most math curricula include worksheets on ordinal numbers (first, second, third, etc). You can support students’ sequencing ability by encouraging the use of vocabulary words such as "What bead goes first? Then which bead? Which bead is third?" Encouraging students to write out the steps for solving addition and subtraction problems that include regrouping is an excellent way to have them think through the steps in a logical order.

Science

Scientific inquiry also develops sequencing skills. In order to study or observe changes in something, students must follow along and record, in sequential order, what they notice. Students can document their observations by writing or drawing.

Social Studies

Timelines are a great way to teach sequence in social studies. Students may enjoy making a timeline of their own lives, including important milestones such as when they learned to walk or talk or when they first wrote their name or rode a bike. Once students understand the process of charting important milestones on a timeline, topics from the social studies curricula can be used. Try this printable timeline template.

Other ideas for sequencing

  • Arts and crafts activities. Quilt-making and other arts and craft activities may reinforce the idea of sequencing and also introduce math concepts (measurement, addition & subtraction and basic computation, etc). Alex Henderson’s Kids Start Quilting with Alex Anderson: 7 Fun & Easy Projects Quilts for Kids by Kids, Tips for Quilting with Children provides easy instructions for adults quilting with children.
  • Cooking. Cookbooks for children can reinforce math concepts (measurement, etc) and sequencing while making connections to students’ reading. The Little House Cookbook: Frontier Foods from Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Classic Stories by Barbara Walker presents recipes for foods mentioned in the Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder.
  • Everyday activities. Create a sequence page for a simple activity around the house or at school. Fold a blank piece of paper into squares. Start with 4 large squares. For older students, create more squares. Ask kids to draw the steps they know in the order in which the steps occur. For example, draw each step it takes to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or to brush their teeth.

Related strategies

See the research that supports this strategy

Moss, B. (2005). Making a case and a place for effective content area literacy instruction in the elementary grades. Reading Teacher, 59, 46-55.

Reutzel, R. (1985). Story maps improve comprehension. Reading Teacher, 38, 400-404.

Children's books to use with this strategy

Who Sank the Boat?

Who Sank the Boat?

By: Pamela Allen
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Independent Reader

Slightly more sophisticated readers will enjoy how the United States was pieced together as individual states were added. This informative book is illustrated with handsome yet informative quilts.

The Penny Pot

The Penny Pot

By: Stuart Murphy
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Independent Reader

Jessie counts her coins in order to have her face painted at the school fair. Coins, counting, art activities, and story combine in one book.

The Keeping Quilt

The Keeping Quilt

By: Patricia Polacco
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Independent Reader

A quilt started by the author's great grandmother is passed on through the generations to chronicle and recall the family's history.

Sitti's Secrets

Sitti’s Secrets

By: Naomi Shihab Nye
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Independent Reader

An American child initially has trouble communicating with her Palestinian grandmother. Families, family stories, immigration, and communication are among the possible build-outs related to this book.

Nabeel's New Pants

Nabeel's New Pants

By: Fawzia Gilani-Williams
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Independent Reader

Nabeel's new garment is accidentally shortened too much in this humorous tale told in the style of a folktale.

Marianthe's Story: Painted Words and Spoken Memories

Marianthe's Story: Painted Words and Spoken Memories

By: Aliki
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Independent Reader

A unique format tells the story of a child new to America, its customs, and language. Immigration, communication, and school & teachers are among the possible links to this book.

Great Migrations: Whales

Great Migrations: Whales

By: Laura Marsh
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Independent Reader

Information is provided through full color photographs and easier to read text.

Benny's Pennies

Benny's Pennies

By: Pat Brisson
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Beginning Reader

A boy has five pennies and spends them one at a time as he meets people during a walk. Told in rhyme, this cumulative story is appealing and well supported by illustration.

Me on the Map

Me on the Map

By: Joan Sweeney
Genre: Nonfiction
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Independent Reader

The United States is a big place which holds many children and their families. Maps and what they show are introduced by a girl who begins with a drawing of her room in her home. The house is then placed on a street, in a town, etc. until we see the U.S. as part of the world. This accessible book may help children understand their place on the map — and in the census.

Rosie's Walk

Rosie's Walk

By: Pat Hutchins
Genre: Fiction
Age Level: 3-6
Reading Level: Pre-Reader

Rosie, a hen, takes a walk — oblivious to the fox that is following her. Rosie unwittingly leads the hungry fox from one disaster to the next until she returns safely home. The simple text notes only Rosie's trip around the farm, making the strong line and bright colors of the illustration all the more striking and very funny.

Owen and Mzee: The True Story of a Remarkable Friendship

Owen and Mzee: The True Story of a Remarkable Friendship

By: Isabella Hatkoff, Craig Hatkoff, Paula Kahumbu
Genre: Nonfiction
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Independent Reader

When a tsunami orphans a young hippopotamus, a group of concerned Malidi (on the east coast of Kenya) villagers figure out how to capture the 600 pound baby thus beginning his new life in an animal sanctuary with a new and unlikely companion — a 130 year old tortoise named Mzee. Full color photographs and straightforward text are used in this inspiring, appealing and true story told first by a young girl and her father.

Show Way

By: Jacqueline Woodson
Genre: Historical Fiction
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Independent Reader

Soonie's great grandmother was only seven-years-old when sold to the big plantation. A quilt that showed the way to freedom and chronicled the family's history connects the generations, and continues to do so. Idealized illustrations and the poetic text provide an unusual family story.

Quilt of States: Piecing America Together

Quilt of States: Piecing America Together

By: Adrienne Yorinks
Genre: Nonfiction
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Independent Reader

Quilts, a truly American art form, are used to illustrate each state in the order in which it was admitted into the United States. Short essays written by state librarians provide the story, background, and information about each quilt and state, and are reflected in the handsome, unique, and colorful illustrations.

One Is a Snail, Ten Is a Crab: A Counting by Feet Book

One Is a Snail, Ten Is a Crab: A Counting by Feet Book

By: April Pulley Sayre, Jeff Sayre
Genre: Fiction
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Independent Reader

While you're on the beach, you can count from 1 to 10 by feet — combining numbers of feet and then multiplying them all the way to 100, which is ten crabs … or 100 snails if you really count slowly! Colorful, bug-eyed, cartoon-like critters further enliven this jaunty approach to numbers.

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"You know you’ve read a good book when you turn the last page and feel a little as if you have lost a friend." — Paul Sweeney