Hameray Classroom Literacy Blog

Teaching Retelling Strategies with Leveled Literature—with FREE Download!

This is a guest post by Richard Giso, an occasional contributor to our blog.  Click here  to see his earlier posts, and check back here on our Classroom Literacy blog frequently to see if he's got a new post up! You could also check out his blog, called  Mr. Giso's Room to Read , in which he writes about fun classroom activities, behavior management, and classroom management.

Teaching Retelling Strategies with Leveled Literature

Hello there. It’s Rich from   Mr. Giso's Room to Read . Once again, I am thrilled to be back with a chance to share some ideas with you. In the age of the Common Core, there has never been more of an emphasis on challenging our primary readers with more and more informational text, and rightfully so.

This time, however, I’ve decided to bring us back to some good old fiction. That’s right, you heard it correctly—shh! This post is one for the classic characters in children’s literature. Today, we'll look at   the complete Mrs. Wishy-Washy set   of the   Joy Cowley Early Birds series . These texts, which feature a character we all know and love, are perfect for my early readers, as they are leveled C–G using the Fountas and Pinnell text gradient. In this series, we get to make wonderful music with Mr. Wishy-Washy; discover that the farm animals have gobbled up Mrs. Wishy-Washy’s pie; solve the mystery of the missing corn; laugh at the pig, duck, and cow not knowing about reflections in the mirror; and meet a new, most unwelcome addition to the Wishy-Washy family: a hissing cat.

These adorable titles are perfect to use when   introducing retelling to your young readers . I suggest you do this by making a “retelling necklace,” an idea I learned from reading Linda Hoyt. First, I always plan to model a new strategy with the whole class, using a big book or a regularly sized text that I can project onto my interactive white board.

After the reading is completed, we do   a mini-lesson on what it means to retell the important parts of the story . I make sure to stress that we pick the three most important events. A trick I like to share with the class is to start with thinking about how the story began and how it ended; then, pick one thing you found interesting in the middle. This works great with my first-graders. After showing the class the strategy come the following steps:

1.   Select   appropriately leveled texts and   assign   texts to groups based on like reading levels. Texts should be fiction and narrative in structure.

2. Students   read   their texts with a teacher, with a buddy, or independently.

3. Students use four index cards. On the first one, they   record   the title of the book, the author and the illustrator. On the remaining cards, they   number   them 1, 2, and 3.

4. Then they   illustrate , in pencil a key event in the beginning (1), middle (2), and end (3).

5. Students use the illustrations to   retell   in writing what happened in the story using the graphic organizer.

6. Students' work is edited. Then, the students   copy   each event on the back of the appropriately numbered illustration (lines side of the index card). Punch holes in each card and tie with ribbon or yarn.

7. Students have a book conference with a buddy who had a   different   book. They   read   to each other and   retell   the story using their necklaces.

Usually, I have my young ones wear their necklaces throughout the day so that they can retell what they read to various members of the school community. It’s a lot of fun. To get the directions and recording sheet, you can download it at the bottom of this page.

On another note, while using the Mrs. Wishy-Washy books in the Joy Cowley Early Birds series, I discovered how well they lend themselves to the types of   higher-order, over-arching questions   we need to ask in order to scaffold our young readers’ comprehension. I came up with many follow-up questions that address the theme of the text, text evidence, the author’s craft and some inferences based on knowing the familiar characters. Here are some examples.

In   Wishy-Washy Sleep , ask, “What does the illustrator do to show that the cow, pig, and duck are pretending to sleep when called to take a bath?”

In   Wishy-Washy Mirror , ask, “What didn’t the animals understand about Mrs. Wishy-Washy’s ‘painting’? Can you find evidence from the text to prove your thinking?”

In   Wishy-Washy Mouse , ask, “Why didn’t the animals want to help Mrs. Wishy-Washy? Do you agree with their decision?”

In   Wishy-Washy Garden , ask, “Why did the animals misunderstand ‘cleaning up the garden?’”

In   Wishy-Washy Corn , ask, “Where did the corn go? What evidence in the text can you find to prove your thoughts?”

I’d like to take this opportunity to wish you all a very happy New Year filled with fun, adventure, learning and, of course, reading. I’m now on Instagram. Follow me at mrgisosroomtoread.


I'm a proud teacher with over 15 years of teaching experience. I began my teaching career as a fourth grade teacher at the Bates Elementary School in Salem, Massachusetts. Since then, I have taught fourth grade for eight years. From there, I moved to a job as a reading coach under the Reading First grant. Having missed my true passion—having a classroom of my own—I returned to teaching as a first grade teacher for the next five years.

Now I've moved to the Carlton Innovation School, also in Salem, Massachusetts, where I am ready to begin my first year as a member of a team of four teachers that teach grades one and two. In addition, I teach undergraduate and graduate students at Salem State University. My courses involve literacy, children's literature, and elementary education. My educational interests include early literacy, effective reading interventions, and positive classroom climates.


To download the directions and recording sheet for the retelling activity, click the "Making a Story Necklace" image below. For more information about the Joy Cowley Early Birds series of leveled readers, visit our website, or click the image to the right below to download a series highlights sheet.