Re-telling – the process of describing a text in your own words (usually to another person).
Re-telling is a popular comprehension strategy: it is used in many subjects (especially language and literacy programs) particularly in primary school classrooms. Re-telling requires a student to summarise and describe a passage that they have recently read, usually to a teacher or small group. Re-telling can be as simple as explaining the plot of a story or it can be more complex such as describing a timeline. Depending on their age and ability, students can take anywhere between 2 and 10 minutes to describe the main points from a passage or story. Teacher and peer questions can extend this time. Re-telling is often followed by questions and prompts to elicit more details and to encourage the development of higher cognitive skills. Depending on the student’s ability, teachers may ask questions about the plot, characters, setting, imagery, literary devices, writing conventions, themes and language use. Teachers may also encourage or require students to ask each other questions. This helps to ensure that everyone is paying attention, including those passively listening to the re-tell.
Re-telling requires a student to summarise and describe a passage that they have recently read, usually to a teacher or small group.
Advanced or older students can be asked more advanced questions. Teachers may require students to think about purpose, point of view, selection of detail, gender or cultural construction, and how the text treats social, historical, political and economic issues. Dissecting and analysing a text in this way is known as ‘deconstructing the text’ – it shows students that texts are constructed by ordinary people who unavoidably attach their biases, agendas, experiences and points of views to their work. This is evident in the decisions that authors make when constructing texts, such as their language and detail selection. Other techniques that can help students to deconstruct a text include comparing and contrasting (for example, characters), looking for intertextuality (when an author links to another text) and considering themes (for example, power).
However, most of the time re-telling is an activity that has students verbally listing the main events and details of a short story or passage from a fiction text. In some instances, the teacher may have students develop a storyboard or some type of advanced organiser to re-tell the story graphically. However, re-telling isn’t an isolated strategy: teachers integrate other strategies such as Bloom’s taxonomy, questioning skills, transferable skills, critical literacy skills and language development strategies. As with all comprehension activities, an emphasis should be placed on language development (including phonics and whole-word learning, spelling, vocabulary, punctuation and grammar). Re-telling and similar activities are used as vehicles for the development of language skills. The use of authentic and engaging texts for indirect language development is combined with short sessions of explicit teaching to boost foundational knowledge (such as spelling patterns and punctuation rules).
However, re-telling isn’t an isolated strategy: teachers integrate other strategies such as Bloom’s taxonomy, questioning skills, transferable skills, critical literacy skills and language development strategies.
Hint: questions can generate the need for an additional re-read which encourages active reading (reading with a specific purpose). Each time a student reads a passage (especially if they are looking for something in particular), their understanding and comprehension should improve.
Adam Green is an advisor to government, a registered teacher, an instructional designer and an author. He is completing a Doctor of Education and was previously head of department for one of the country’s largest SAER (students at educational risk) schools. Adam is managing director of Fast Track Training Australia, an accredited training provider for thousands of teacher aides every year.
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