Sequencing is one of many skills that contributes to students' ability to comprehend what they read. 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|
More comprehension strategies
Why teach story sequence?
- It assists with comprehension, especially for narrative texts.
- Sequence structures help students of varying abilities organize information and ideas efficiently.
- Sequencing is also an important component of problem-solving across the curriculum, including science and social studies.
Watch: Greedy Cat: Retelling a Story Sequence to Build Comprehension
Students build skills essential to reading comprehension by retelling a story. 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. See the lesson plan.
Story maps provide one way to help students organize the events from a story.
Helping students learn transition or signal words that indicate a sequence (first, second, last) will also help them learn about sequence.
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:
Most math curricula include worksheets on ordinal numbers (first, second, third, etc). Patterns are also a form of sequencing my 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 order. Teachers can use a simple sheet of paper folded into four squares. Ask students to write the steps in order in the squares.
Helping children sequence also develops their scientific inquiry skills. In order to study or observe changes in something, students must follow along and record changes. The changes happen in a particular order, which kids can document by writing or drawing pictures.
Timelines are a great way to teach sequence in social studies. Kids may enjoy making a timeline of their own life, and include important milestones such as when they learned to walk, talk, ride a bike and go to school. Once students understand the process of charting important milestones on a timeline, topics from the social studies curricula can be used.
This simple example of an explorers timeline illustrates how the spacing between dates indicates the passage of time.
Other ideas for sequencing
- Arts & crafts activities. It may be desirable to consider quilt-making and/or other arts & crafts activities with children. This and other arts and craft activities may reinforce the idea of sequencing and may 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 with kids. Cookbooks for children can reinforce stories read, math concepts (measurement, etc), as well as sequencing. The Little House Cookbook: Frontier Foods from Laura Ingalls Wilder's Classic Stories by Barbara Walker (HarperCollins; 0064460908) presents recipes for foods mentioned in the Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder.
- Wordless books. There are many wordless books that can be used with younger children and with English language learners (or students who may have limited English proficiency). For younger children, Pancakes for Breakfast by Tomie dePaola humorously details a woman making pancakes from scratch or the wordless adventures of Mark Newgarden's a small dog named Bow-Wow (e.g., Bow-Wow Bugs a Bug). For older or more sophisticated readers, books by Barbara Lehmann and David Weisner may be considered.
- Everyday activities. Create a sequence page for a simple activity around the house or at school. Use any blank sheet of paper. Fold the 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.
- Calendar time. Cut or tear out the pages from an old calendar. Mix up the months and hand out the stack of pages. Ask the kids to order the months from January to December by laying the pages out on the floor. Which month goes first? Then which one? Which month is last?
Download blank templates
For second language learners, students of varying reading skill, and for younger learners
- Scaffold your instruction by providing prompts for each section on your map. For example, in the "Beginning" box of your map, write in prompts such as: Who are the main characters? Where does the story take place?
- Differentiate which sequence chart to give to which students. The beginning-middle-end format is the simplest; other more complex maps can be used with more advanced students.
- Model this strategy using a book with very clear components to help students understand each component.
- Students can extend their understanding of sequencing into their own writing. Students can use sequence charts to plan, summarize, and write their own main ideas, characters, setting, and plot for a story.
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?
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
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
A quilt started by the author's great grandmother is passed on through the generations to chronicle and recall the family's history.
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 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
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
Information is provided through full color photographs and easier to read text.
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
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, 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
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.
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
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
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.