Narrative Retelling: The Opposite of Summarizing

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SWBAT define Narrative Retelling and practice it with books from their browsing boxes.

Big Idea

Introducing the concept of Narrative Retelling


I didn’t realize there was a difference between Summarizing and Retelling until I had already been teaching for several years. I thought they were interchangeable, partly because they had always been presented that way, even in our district reading assessment materials. So, naturally, I taught them interchangeably. I remember the exact moment that I realized they were two very different strategies, almost opposites. I was sitting in a workshop when the presenter kept referring to Summarizing as just the main idea of a story, which should be one or two sentences, and referred to Retelling as telling a story again with details from the beginning, middle, and end.  It was truly one of those “ah-hah” moments and it instantly impacted the way I teach these equally important reading skills. In this unit, I will focus on Narrative Retelling, and teach students to tell a story again in their own words by using details from the beginning, the middle, and the end. It is important to distinguish Narrative Retelling from Informational Retelling, because they differ in strategy and technique. In the next unit on Informational Retelling, they will learn to retell informational text by including the main idea, then detail, detail, detail for each heading.


I like to spend a sufficient amount of time on each strategy to allow for an introduction, modeling, scaffolding, independent practice, assessment, and reflection. Therefore, I spend approximately 1 week on each strategy and follow a similar instructional routine. This is day 1 of Retelling Week – Introducing the Strategy. 


10 minutes

Connection: I always start by connecting today’s lesson to something kids have previously learned so that it triggers their schema and background knowledge. Since this is the first they are learning about Retelling this year, I start by asking them to think back to their favorite movie that they summarized last week.  I tell them that instead of summarizing and just sharing the main idea of the movie, I want them to retell everything that happened from the beginning to the end. I usually get crazed looks full of eyes bulging and mouths dropped at this point so I tell them I understand this is quite a challenging task. But I also share that with some simple strategies, Retelling a story is actually pretty easy.


Teaching Point: This is when I tell kids explicitly what we will be working on. I say, “This week, we will be focusing on Narrative Retelling, which is when you tell a story again including details from the beginning, the middle, and the end.  I tell them that our minds should be able to Retell what we are reading, whether it is a page, a chapter, or an entire book, because it shows our true understanding of the text.   


Active Engagement: This is where students get to try out the strategy that I just taught them. I ask them to think about their favorite movie again. Instead of trying to Retell the entire movie (yet), I ask them to take the first step, which is breaking it into three parts: beginning, middle, and end. I give them about two minutes of thinking time then I ask them to turn and talk to their partners to share.  I encourage them to start by saying, “In the beginning…, in the middle…in the end…”  I give the kids a “spoiler warning” in case they haven’t seen the movie, because unlike a Summary, which just tells the main idea, a Retelling will give away the ending.


Link to Ongoing Work: During this portion of the mini-lesson, I give the students a task that they will focus on during Independent Reading time. Now that I’ve introduced Retelling, I tell them that when they are reading today, their job is just to practice Retelling one of the narrative books in their browsing boxes that they have recently finished. Their job is to break the story into three parts, the beginning, middle, and end. At the end of Reader’s Workshop, they will meet with their assigned reading partner to discuss the first step of their Retelling. I remind them that I will randomly choose a few students to share so that they make sure to complete their task.


Guided Practice

45 minutes

Transition Time: Every day after the mini-lesson, students get 5 minutes of Prep Time to choose new books (if needed), find a comfy spot, use the bathroom, and anything else they might need to do to prepare for 40 minutes of uninterrupted Independent Reading.  


Guided Practice: Today, I would be conferencing with students right at their comfy spots and asking them to share summaries from the book they are reading. This is also when I could pull students for assessments, one-on-one reading, strategy groups, or guided reading groups. Because this portion of Reader’s Workshop is meant to be flexible and student based, it is not beneficial to plan too far ahead of time. Instead, you should gauge which students may need extra support through the mini-lesson, prior assessments, reading levels, overall ability and need for scaffolding. For Retelling support, I will read with specific students, either with their own books or a teacher selected book, and help them decide what the beginning, middle, and end are each about.



5 minutes

At the end of 40 minutes, I remind students that their job during reading time was to practice Retelling in their books. I ask them to repeat the term, Retelling. Then I tell them to meet with their reading partner to share the first part of their Retelling. Did they see a clear beginning, middle, and end? Do they understand the difference between Summarizing and Retelling? After partners have had a chance to share with each other, I ask a few students to share with the class. I then tell the class that we will focus on Retelling for the rest of the week. Reader’s Workshop has come to an end so students put their browsing boxes away and make sure the library is neat and organized.