Teach Your Child to Retell a Story

My daughter’s teacher recently sent home a note listing some of the things the children will be tested on before the end of the school year.  One of the items was retelling a story that she has read.  Any suggestions for how we can start working at home to make sure that she understands the task? 


 Your question does not say what grade your child is completing or at what level she is reading.  Retelling changes over time as text becomes more challenging.  Retelling is used in many schools as part of a reading assessment because it is a quick easy way to check on comprehension.

              If you can retell a story, you understand the basic story.

  • Young children do not automatically know how to retell a story.  If a child cannot retell a story you cannot assume that they didn’t understand the story, they may just not understand the task. 
  • As a mom, you are correct to want to help your child to understand the task of retelling.  
  • A good way to get started is to retell familiar stories such as The Three Little Pigs, Jack and the Beanstalk, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, or Little Red Riding Hood.  This activity is great on a car ride.

      Demonstrate how to start a retelling: One beautiful sunny day; One frosty winter     

      Morning; Once upon a time; etc..

  • Tell your child that she must use the names of the characters and mention the setting (a mountain village, the forest, the beach, the character’s neighborhood, etc.).
  • Using the retelling guidelines above, start modeling a retelling of one of the familiar stories (perform your thinking process aloud so that your daughter will begin to think in this way when she starts a retelling). Example: Let’s see how will I start?  … “Once upon a time there was a little girl named Little Red Riding Hood.  She lived on the edge of the forest with her mother.  One day her mother said … .  Let’s see, what happened next?”
  • Once you have modeled retelling of familiar stories, you have set the stage for retelling at any level.
  • Young children need to be taught the guidelines, but their stories are so simple that they need only tell the beginning, middle and end.  That is usually all there is to a story.
  • As stories become more complex, children need to tell the events of the story in correct order and add more story details.  The student must also state how the story ends.  Some stories teach a moral or lesson.  In this case, the lesson should be stated by the student. 

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4 Comments + Add Comment

  • Yes, Simpler the better to start. I had students use sequence words: first, next, then, last. I also used picture sequence cards to assist as visuals. It is a good exercise to do around the dinner table as the family discusses what happened during the day. A purposeful modeling of a story by an adult can show a child the format in action.
    Susan at

  • As a teacher of 30 years, I agree with everything you’ve said above, my mind as a teacher agrees but my heart and experience always tell me this. Begin and end with a story your child loves. Engage your child’s senses; whether a story be funny, scary or heart warming. Let your child take the lead on what stories they want to read – give a selection and let them choose. Model storytelling for them; instead of reading a bedtime story, tell them one every now and then, and repeat the ones they love often. By engaging the senses, learning anything, including retelling becomes so much easier!

  • I like to tell the story to children through a visual aid first. Buy visually making it up and then having the child categorize, the beginning, middle and ending of the story. 90% of us are visual learners. The second way is to also act out the story, with puppets or different children in the classroom. These are beginning techniques about how to re-tell stories. Good Luck.

  • Good post – thanks. It’s something I’ve been struggling with, with my child (10 yo). But how do you get them not to tell every little detail (without being discouraging of their efforts)? My son’s retells can take as long as the book took to read, lol!

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