Retelling Stories

Students at a young age need to begin experiencing retelling stories. Once a story is read to them, they should be encouraged to retell the events that occurred in the story. This activity should start during kindergarten, when students can use predictable text, such as The Three Little Pigs or Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do You See?. Older students can also benefit from retelling stories, using more complex texts such as The Diary of Ann Frank. The importance of retelling stories is that it allows students to learn to organize and describe events, which enhances reading comprehension.

Story retelling provides ELLs an opportunity to analyze stories and build oral language as they acquire related vocabulary (Schienkman, 2004). Using pictures to retell a story can be highly beneficial to second language learners. It provides visual support that scaffolds comprehension as ELLs learn new vocabulary. Retelling stories helps ELLs begin to understand sequence, plot, and characterization as they build vocabulary and comprehension skills. But most important of all, it provides the fundamental skills ELL students need to begin retelling stories on paper.

Classroom application

Justine Brandi-Muller is teacher in New Jersey Berkeley Heights Public Schools. She has been using this best practice in her classroom for the past six years. She begins the activity by creating pictures that depict characters, main idea, plot, setting, and other important components of the book she is going to read. Justine then reads the story for the first time, using pictures and other props when appropriate.

During the first reading, she stops to explain the pictures and deliberately repeats new vocabulary words for the ELL students to have a better understanding. To continue the lesson, she has the students retell the story in small groups in English without pictures (and if a child finds it easier she allows him/her to tell the story in Spanish). During the second reading, Justine has her students use the pictures and new vocabulary words to retell the story in English.

Justine has found that students love to see how much more they remember once they've been provided with a visual clue, such as the pictures. She describes this classroom activity as "a fun, non-threatening way to read in English and have ELLs understand the meaning." She has discovered that her ELL students have become more enthusiastic and willing to take a chance and read aloud; she has also observed that they seem to remember the vocabulary better with this method.

Topics Online Magazine: Folktales

Folktales from around world, including tales from Japan, Korea, Malaysia, and Indonesia.

Scholastic: Myths from Around the World

Stories and myths from around the world, organized by region.


Story Arts: International Folktales

An online library of short international folktales for children to retell.

University of North Carolina: International Children's Stories

Stories, legends, and folktales from around the world. Links to stories from many countries such as India, Greece, China, and Egypt.


Pro Teacher: Storytelling Lesson Plans

Links to storytelling activities and lesson plans for teachers.



Scheinkman, N. (2004). Picturing a story. Teaching Pre K-8, (34)6, 58-59.


Justine Brandi-Muller has been teaching for the past 8 years and has taught grades 2-5. She has provided district wide support as she developed the Foreign Language in the Elementary Schools (FLES) Curriculum for the Lawrence Public School District in N.Y, and re-develop Foreign Language in the Elementary Schools (FLES) Curriculum for the Berkeley Heights Public Schools, N.J, Justine has recently been awarded with an Education Foundation Grant for two schools in her school district. She is planning to enhance Spanish curriculum with additional books, videos, and a live Flamenco Dancing performance. Justine is involved in a "Collegial Partnership" in her school art department, which brings awareness about the culture of numerous Spanish-speaking countries (i.e., Mexico, Spain, Panama, Guatemala, Peru, etc). Justine considers herself a "hands-on" educator. She tries to use all modes of learning to stimulate and enhance her lessons. She also makes sure that her students are exposed to written vocabulary visually, using Total Physical Response (TPR) activities. As Justine said, "It makes the learning environment a fun one, and promotes long term vocabulary recall."


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National Education Association. How Educators Can Advocate for English Language Learners.


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