How and Why to Teach Story Retelling to Your Child


“Again, please!” says Peanut. “You want me to read Swimmy again?” I ask. “Yes, I like this book,” says Peanut. After about 5 times through, I’m kind of bored of Swimmy, although it is a fantastic book. I suck it up and start reading again. This time, I pause as I read, leaving space for Peanut to fill in the words, just testing to see how much he remembers. We’ve begun story retelling!

He fills in lots of different pieces of information, using vocabulary I haven’t ever heard him say in everyday conversation such as “escaped” “swallowed” and “lobster”. His memory is quite good and he can remember details for each page of the book.

When we read again the next day, and Peanut picks out Swimmy again (surprise, surprise) I read it to him the first time. Then, when he asks to read it again, I say “Now it’s your turn. You read it to me.” He giggles. But, after a minute of adjusting to the idea, he gets started. “All the fish were red, but one was black…” he says.

Reading Story Retelling

Why Story Retelling?

Story retelling is highly recommended by many early childhood literacy and language experts. Why? It helps little ones develop a number of important skills. According to the Center for Early Literacy Learning, benefits obtained from story retelling include:

  • comprehension skills
  • vocabulary
  • oral language skills (receptive and expressive)

Basically this means that children improve their memory of what they read, learn new words and are able to understand and express themselves in new and different ways as a result of this activity.

This skill comes fairly naturally to many children, especially if they are accustomed to hearing stories frequently. Children love to hear the same stories over and over again. During each reading, they are absorbing words, sentence structure and a deeper understanding of the story. Then, when they tell the story to themselves, they solidify this knowledge and convert heard language into expressed language.

How is Story Retelling Taught?

Story telling can start very simply. As with my son, you can naturally begin using story retelling skills as part of your story time and reading routine. Some great books to start with are repetitive books. Some of the first ones I used are:

  • Brown Bear, Brown Bear
  • The Very Hungry Caterpillar
  • There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed A Fly
  • If You Give A Mouse A Cookie

You can start out by reading books your child seems to enjoy over and over again. Then, you can try leaving pauses as you read for your child to fill in the words. Slowly, you can transfer the responsibility over to your child and have them retell the entire story. One of my son’s very first retells was Brown Bear Brown Bear, which he read to his little sister.

Story retelling can be enhanced by including sequencing elements. For example, rather than giving your child the book to use as a guide for retelling the story, create, download or purchase print outs, felt pieces, story stones or magnets to tell the story. These should be prepared ahead of time.

For example, for The Very Hungry Caterpillar, provide images of a caterpillar, the fruit and foods the caterpillar ate, a cocoon and a butterfly. Assist your child as she recreates the story, placing each image in order as she talks through the events.

In my next post, I’ll include some resources and ideas for story retelling that we’ve used (actually, this post is up now! Story Retelling with Clifford) For now, enjoy watching how Peanut retold the story Swimmy by Leo Lionni.



10 thoughts on “How and Why to Teach Story Retelling to Your Child

  1. Good info. Our 3 and 4 yr old boys love bedtime stories but, sometimes they won’t sit and listen. They are moving around and seem to not be paying attention until I stop reading. How should I handle this?

    • Yes – sometimes they’re such wiggle worms aren’t they? When that happens, I try to engage the kids in the story somehow by using funny character voices, asking them to repeat phrases characters say in funny voices (do big exaggerations here – like if the character says “I’m hungry” also rub your tummy, drawing out the word hungry, and have them repeat after you.) Other options include asking your kids about a detail in the illustrations or asking what they would do if they were the character. You may want to have your kids act out a story or do actions related to the storyline (if someone climbs a tree, they can do pulling motions with their arms, or if the fish swims, they can pretend their hand is a fish and wave it back and forth). Or, you can even stop reading and do a “movement break”. With preschoolers sitting in a circle, I have them lean back and “bicycle” in the air with their legs, then sit with their legs crossed, then put their legs straight out, etc. all the while switching between movements quickly. In the worst cases, I resort to asking the kids if they’d rather pick a different book to read. Sometimes they pick another book they seem to enjoy more. I also think stopping reading is fine. It’s a clear way to show expectations about behavior when reading. Hope this helps!

  2. Fab idea, we already do this with our three year old and I hadn’t even realised how important it is to her learning. Now I can tell Hubby that actually its a good thing for her to want to re read a book 3 or 4 times in one night, especially when she starts to join in with the words! Thank you for sharing with #bigpinklink x

  3. My eldest daughter loved books and being read to. Her favourite was I Love You Blue Kangaroo. She know it word for word at before she was three would sit ‘reading’ it to herself turning the page at the right time. It was so cute. She is now 13 and still loves reading. Daughter number two was a different kettle of fish altogether. She did like a story, but not as much as her sister (she was just to busy for reading) and she took longer to progress with her reading. They are both bright girls, but strangely, number two daughter is naturally brighter. More importantly, they both enjoy reading and that makes me a very happy mum. Have fun with Peanut #MMBC

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