First off, we’ll ask ourselves: why can it be hard for a child to retell a story? Usually the answer is obvious: she’s just not interested. The text doesn’t grab her. And since it doesn’t grab her, she simply doesn’t get what there is to retell. All she sees are separate words. So what’s the point of retelling you what she’s entirely uninterested in? None at all. What’s the motivation there? Nothing.
That’s when some adults will say: “sometimes you just have to” or “he should learn to do what’s required at school.” But I do think that before a child should take up what he “has to” do, we can practice with material he enjoys. For that, we have a bit of a roadmap:
1. Start with cartoons. Your child chooses which to watch. Then you ask him to tell you the story, not because he needs to “practice,” but because you want to hear what the cartoon was about. Kids are always excited to retell plots from “Gravity Falls” or “Paw Patrol.” Try asking them about an episode!
Using cartoons as an example, we teach children the structure of narrative: any story has a beginning, middle, and end. We direct their attention with questions like:
-So how did it all begin?
-Why did he go there?
-What happened next?
-How did things turn out?
2. Give your son or daughter the chance to find their own words and don’t butt in with suggestions. Let her drag out the “ummmm” and use filler words such as “so” and “like.” If you’re struggling to contain yourself, imagine being asked to summarize War and Peace. Are you sure you’d manage without a single “um”?
3. Move on to beloved books. Our retelling activities usually run into the same problem: kids are so excited to give a detailed retelling of a book they’ve just read that we run out of time. They’re willing to go on forever. The secret is simple: they’re talking about what they love. Ask your child to retell the very simplest book she’s read. Ask out of curiosity: “Oh, what's that about? I’ve never read it.” You could phrase the questions like this: “What happens in the book? Do you think I should read it?”
Sometimes kids struggle to retell even a very basic story. They have a picture in their heads, but they can’t describe it. So what we do is we draw the story. It’s a very effective method. As soon as the main character’s down on the page, a kitten, let’s say, it becomes a lot easier to tell his tale.
4. “Draw the story” is a great method when you have to retell a boring school text. You and your child try to summarize the story and at every turn of the plot, or at certain key words, you draw a picture to serve as a hint. The second step is having him tell the story using your pictures as a guide. Images are an excellent memory aid and the next day he can try retelling the story without pictures. Try to make the pictures funny—the more striking the image, the more memorable it is.
And then there’s one final, but very important thing to think about. How often do you retell stories to your child? Do you enthusiastically share about the book you’ve just read or the movie you’ve seen? Or even just tell them how your day went? Your children learn everything from you—including the art of retelling a story. You know the story of Cinderella. But can you tell it back to someone? What were Cinderella’s stepsisters’ ball gowns like? What were the chores Cinderella’s evil stepmother gave her when the sisters headed out to the ball without her?
Before we get to work teaching children, we should get into the habit of retelling our own stories. They don’t have to be books we’ve read. We can tell the story of what happened on our way home. Children love to listen! Believe me (or try it out for yourself!): a well-told story from you will be the best inspiration for great retellings.
Translated from the Russian by Alisa Cherkasova
Cover image: maxpixel.net
Follow us on Facebook.