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Retell Activities for First Grade

Being able to easily retell a story is a foundational reading comprehension skill for first grade students. It's an activity that can be done with every single read aloud. It can (and should) be done whole group, in small group, with partners, in literacy stations and during independent reading. It's also a great skill for parents to work on at home. 

To retell a story, students tell about a story that they have read or heard with “attention to detail”. 

Students must be able to describe the different parts of the story including beginning, middle and end in detail. They must also try use the same vocabulary and language from story. 

This sounds like an easy skill, but students can often do a basic detail. But they struggle to add details and use the vocabulary and language from the text. 

What First Grade students should know about Story Retell

When it comes to what we think of as “basic” story retell, it’s pretty simple. Students should be able to retell the beginning, middle and end of a story and include details in their explanation.

But story retell can be (and should be) so much more than that.

We should be encouraging students to include new vocabulary or language from the text.

Another aspect of story retell that often gets overlooked is genre. Yes, students should be able to retell a fiction story. But students should ALSO be able to retell facts and events from:

  • Informational texts
  • Persuasive texts
  • Multimodal and/or digital text
  • Information that relates to research questions

One of the best ways that you can help your first grade students build a strong foundation for story retell is by starting small. If a student is struggling with an entire book, focus on retelling small sections of the text and building up to the entire story.

If a student is still struggling, have them practice by retelling parts of their day. Making it personal will help them catch on to the skill faster and then it will transfer into story retell.

How to Introduce Story Retell for First Grade

If you teach lower elementary, then you know that there is SO much that goes into the comprehension of a book. First grade students are learning so much at this age and even listening comprehension requires their little brains to work so hard.

Why do I bring this up?

Because I want you to think about how hard they are ALREADY working when they are listening to a read aloud and when you use a mentor text to introduce a NEW SKILL, most students’ brains go into overload!

So what should we do instead?

Start with a non-text activity. Let me introduce you to a new kind of “slideshow”. 

I like to use interactive slideshows/powerpoints. My slideshows always follow this order: 

  • Teaching Slides: Introduces students to WHAT the skill is
  • Guided Practice: Introduces students to HOW to apply the skill
  • Interactive Practice: Gives students an example and allows them to PRACTICE the skill in an easy and concise way

Retelling Activities for First Grade

After we practice the slideshow, then we practice building our story retell muscles with some guided and independent practice. 

I've found the best and easiest way to do this is with photographs or images of things that my first grade students know a lot about. 

My students do this Sequence a Story activity (seen on the right). We do one together as a class for guided practice. 

For this activity, students must correctly sequence a set of pictures, then tell a story using the pictures. This is a great activity because two students can work together, then each one can tell their own story. 

Having students work together and listen to each other practice is a great way for them to expand their story retell skills. 

Then, this activity goes into their stations for Guided Reading. 

The best part about this activity is that you can leave it out for several weeks because each time students can choose a new set of pictures! 

The key to making this station activity work is to make sure the students are explaining their retell with DETAIL.

When writing and oral retell, you should encourage students to use transition words such as “first, next, then and last”. But also make it clear that there are more than just four parts to a story. 

Digital Story Retell Activities for First Grade

Whether you are teaching virtually (thanks alot COVID) or in the classroom, our students are primed now more than ever to complete activities digitally. 

The Sequence a Story station activity I just showed you is available digitally also!

You can read more about how to integrate Digital Comprehension Tools here. 

Mentor Texts for Story Retell

A mentor text is an incredibly powerful tool for teaching reading comprehension skills! 

(make sure you keep reading to the end of this post to see a list of my favorite mentor texts for story retell)

The problem that many teachers run into with mentor texts is that there are SO MANY different skills you can teach with the same mentor text….

Sometimes we try to do TOO MUCH and we overwhelm our students! 

Let me introduce you to a Comprehension Focus Question (CFQ). 

A CFQ is one question that you focus on through the entire text! 

It simplifies things for you and your students. (more on that later)…

But let's take a minute to dispel so myths about mentor texts..

A mentor text is NOT a book that you read once and put it away.

A mentor text is a book that you read once, then refer back to again and again and again.

The greatest benefit of a good mentor text is that after you have read it once, when you refer back to it, you aren’t reading the entire book again, you are simply referring back to one or two pages.

It will save you SO much time.

AND students are already familiar with the story line meaning that already have a foundation for whatever comprehension skill you are about to dive into!

How to Boost Comprehension for Problem & Solution

Comprehension Focus Questions

As I mentioned, a Comprehension Focus Question (CFQ) is a very focused and intentional comprehension goal for an activity, a week or even a unit.

If you have done your research and you understand your learning standard, the vocabulary and what students need to know…

Then it becomes very easy to choose a goal (or a comprehension focus question).

But, why do you need a comprehension goal?

To stay FOCUSED!

Not just for you, but for your students also!

Let’s look at an example. Let’s say that this week you are focusing on how to make an inference. Well, there are about a hundred different ways you can make an inference and a CFQ allows you to focus on one area at a time.

Example CFQ: “How Did The Character Change From ___ To ____?”

In this comprehension focus question, you and your students are focusing in on the characters of the story.

The great thing about CFQ’s is that the next time you pull out this mentor text, you can choose a different CFQ to focus on while still practicing how to make an inference!

Sentence Stems

Another great strategy that falls right in long with mentor texts and comprehension focus questions is sentence stems.

A sentence stem is a phrase that your first grade students will use to answer a comprehension question.

Sentence stems are designed to get students to answer comprehension questions more fully rather than giving one word answers.

Sentence stems encourage students to explain their thinking.

I like to have a list of sentence stems next to my table that are specific to each comprehension skill. I stick to one or two stems per skill for the entire year because I want my students to be consistent. (This also makes it a lot easier for them)

If we are sticking with our Make an Inference example, I would use the following sentence stems:

I Think ___ Because____.   

I Read This ____ So I Think _____

Retelling Activities for First Grade

All of the activities that you found in this post, both printable and digital, can be found in my Story Retell Bundle here.

You can save up to 20% by purchasing the items together, but you can also purchase individual items to better fit your needs!

Best Books for Story Retell

**You can use the recording sheet from the Story Sequencing station with all of these read alouds!

More First Grade Favorites

Retell Blog Post

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Kristen Sullins

Kristen Sullins

I am a current Elementary Librarian and
Enrichment Teacher, mother of two, follower of Christ and Texas native. In my own classroom, I love to save time by finding unique ways to integrate writing, social studies and science into all parts of my day. I also love all things organization!