Hameray Classroom Literacy Blog

Talking and Writing About Narrative and Informational Texts [First Grade]

By Laureen S, First-Grade Teacher, Guest Blogger

We’ve all met those students who can read anything you put in front of them, but then when you ask them to retell what they read, they draw a blank. Having students talk about (and listen to) what they read is essential and needs to happen daily in the classroom. This post will share ideas on using both narrative and informational texts to help kids retell.

When reading aloud, I often stop reading and ask students to retell what has happened in the story. Disruptions happen throughout the day in the classroom, so take advantage of them! Simply asking, “Where were we?” when a book is disrupted will get students thinking about the story and doing a retell.

There are different elements to a fiction retell in comparison to nonfiction retell, so being able to identify if a text us fiction or nonfiction is very important. Be sure to read Using Nonfiction Animal Books to Teach Timeless Verbs by Dr. Susan Bennett-Armistead because she helpfully describes the characteristics of informational text.

I believe that retelling needs to be explicitly taught. To help, I have created posters to help students retell both narrative (fiction) and informational (nonfiction) texts. I have used the language my students are familiar with, but realizing you may use different terms in your classroom, I have included a blank poster for you to add to. You can download this resource by clicking on this image.

I used The Fly and the Honey Pot Theme Set to start a discussion not only about fables (that fly sure learned his lesson!) but also about differentiating between fiction and nonfiction with my students. The leveled books in the set are at levels G–I, which are perfect for guided reading groups but equally as helpful as a read-aloud with the whole class.

I read Through the Eyes of a Fly , and we brainstormed on chart paper the following list of text elements: real information, photographs, table of contents, labels. Then we read the fable The Fly and the Honey Pot and created another student-generated list of features in a narrative text: characters, setting, a beginning, middle, and ending, often a problem and solution, and is read for enjoyment.

Once it is determined if the text is fiction or nonfiction, I use the finger retell posters to model an oral retell. When retelling, I tell the story by moving my fingers along as I talk. One of my coworkers and I had a discussion about whether or not students should be able to look at the text when doing a retell. The answer is YES! Imagine having to write a report card without looking back at student work and teacher observation notes.

Looking back in the text after reading is a very important strategy to use, especially in the beginning, when retell is new. Expectations of students should increase with both their reading level and practice retelling. Students will begin with a simple retell but will add more details the more they retell.

The next natural step for students after orally giving a retell is for them to write. Encourage your students to tell the story across their fingers as they write and remind them they need at least one sentence for each finger. You’ll be pleased with the writing they produce, and they’ll be proud to share their writing with their peers.

Be sure to visit this blog often for more ways to engage students while they practice reading and writing skills. Remember, if you haven’t had a chance to peek at Hameray’s paired texts, you need to! They are a must for a primary classroom!


Laureen is a first-grade teacher in Canada. She has been teaching kindergarten and grade one for more than twenty years. Laureen loves to make learning fun and you can find her at her blog, Teach With Laughter . You can also visit her TPT page here .