Hameray Classroom Literacy Blog

4 Hands-On Ways to Retell Stories

By Beth Richards

When students retell a story, they recall a sequence of events, focus on main characters, and use the vocabulary from the story. It's a great way to incorporate multiple comprehension skills into one task! This blog shares activities that can be used at any grade level to help students successfully retell stories.

Act it Out

When asked to retell a story, some students leave out significant events, while others describe every detail. Acting out a story helps students automatically focus on the main actions, leaving out unessential information.

  • Depending on the length of the story, split it into three or more sections by placing sticky notes on the book's pages to mark the beginning, middle, and end. If the story is longer, you may need a few middle sections or pick a portion of the book to act out.
  • Acting out the story can be kept simple. Give students a few minutes to decide how they are going to act out their assigned roles or assigned part of the story. Use any props that are available and encourage a lot of imagination!
  • Fables and fairytales are great genres for acting out a story, especially with young readers. With a clear plot line and repetitive actions, students can use the same phrases as they act out the story. For example, Goldilocks repeats how items in the bears' cottage are too hot, soft, big, or just right! The Little Red Hen asks, "Who will help me?” and is told repeatedly, "Not me!"


Distinguishing Between Essential Information & Details

An analogy to help students understand what information is essential and what to leave out of a retelling is Noodles & Water. When you finish cooking noodles, you strain all the water so the delicious noodles are ready to eat. When retelling a story, strain out the details and keep the most important information—just the noodles—no water!

Noodles & Water Activity for Whole Group:

Use a T-Chart labeled Noodles (Essential Information) and Water (Details). Ask students to share parts of the story. Write what they say on sticky notes and place it under the correct column. Here are questions to help determine if a part of the story is noodles or water:

  • If I leave this information out, will I still understand the story?
  • How does this information move the plot forward?
  • Does this information involve the main characters?

Click here to download this chart.

Noodles & Water Activity for Small Group or Partners:

  • Give students sentence strips with parts of the story explained on them.
  • Working together, students can decide if the sentences are noodles (essential parts of the story) or water (details).
  • Encourage students to justify their thinking as they sort through the sentences.
  • Retell the story using the sentences students determined to be essential to the story.

Use Transition Words

Transition words help students explain a sequence of events and are important to incorporate into writing.

Click here to download transition word cards.

Introduce Transition Words

  • Hand out transition word cards and sentence strips explaining the important events of the story.
  • In partners or small groups, ask students to sequence the sentence strips.
  • Next insert the transition words at appropriate places within the retelling.
  • Practice reading the retelling several times together. Make any revisions as needed.

Retelling Game with Transition Words

  •  Hand out index cards with sequence words, especially words like first or in the beginning, to indicate a clear starting point.
  • The teacher takes the first card and starts retelling the story.
  • When the teacher finishes explaining what happened first, encourage a student with a card that reads next, after that, etc., to tell what happened next.
  • Each child is responsible for thinking about their transition word and matching it with language to explain a particular part of the story.

Find Keywords

Choosing keywords from a story to incorporate into a retelling reinforces vocabulary. For example, in the fable, The Birds, the Beasts, and the Bat, the bat tries to decide who is better–the birds or the beasts.

  • Give students an index card with keywords from a particular part of the story. For example: bat, idea, vote, tie.
  • Ask students to write a sentence or two that uses those keywords to tell about their part of the story. Example: The bat had an idea to have the animals vote for who was better, but it was a tie.
  • Next, ask students to read their sentences as a group and put them in sequential order.
  • After sequencing the sentences, add transition words, then practice reading the retelling!  

Retelling stories is fun. Incorporating partner or group work, writing, and even a little acting is easy! It is also a vital comprehension skill and an excellent way for students to share about the stories they read.


Hameray's Fables & Traditional Tales Set features 41 stories ideal for practicing retelling. From classics like The Three Little Pigs to fables that promote values such as honesty, hard work, and generosity, enjoy beautifully illustrated stories students will love. 


Beth has been teaching for twenty years. For the last nine years, she has been a literacy interventionist and Reading Recovery teacher. Prior to that, she taught kindergarten, third, and fourth graders. She loves spending her days helping her students develop and share her love of reading.