Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Oral Retellings

Before a child can write "just like Kevin Henkes" in  Writers' Workshop, he has to be able to orally retell a story. He must be able to hold an entire story in his head before we can ever expect him to transfer the craft that he hears into his own writing.  Retelling also deepens comprehension.  It helps students understand beginning, middle and end and to sequence the events of the story.

To practice retelling we spend a week on orally retelling  Kevin Henkes' stories. On the first day we show the children a written retelling of Owen with a beginning, a middle with three events, and an ending. Then the students cut out puppets of the main characters of Owen that we put on Popsicle sticks and we encourage the students to retell the story to a partner. We, of course, model how we would retell the story before the students try it on their own. After they have practiced, we have several students come to the front and use their puppets to retell the story. The children then take the puppets home so they can continue to practice the retellings with their family.
We do virtually the same thing on the next day with the story Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse. We first show the children a written retelling with a beginning, a middle that includes three events, and an ending. Then we give the children five pictures from the story that represent each of the five parts, one picture for each part. We begin by modeling our own retelling of the story with a partner. I tell a part of the story and then my co-teacher tells a part and then I tell a part... until all five parts have been told. Then the students practice with a partner. Finally we bring a partner pair to the front to "fishbowl" retelling the story for the class. Once again, the students take their pictures home and are encouraged to retell the story to their family.

And still another day we pass out a piece of construction paper to each student. Each table (groups of 5-6) decides on one of Kevin Henkes' books and chooses one of the five parts to illustrate and then to retell. After the children at the table have illustrated their part of the story, they hold up their picture and in order, retell their part of the story.

All of this oral work provides the background for understanding story elements. Until a child can retell a story orally by holding the entire story in his head, he is not able to summarize and it is summary that we will finally reach as we end this unit. The ability to summarize leads to synthesis and it is the synthesis across an author's entire body of work that will be the goal for our most advanced students. Stay tuned to watch the children's growth across this unit...

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