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Retelling Stories with Language and Understanding
vocabulary, observe children applying vocabulary in play, and
observe vocabulary usage while story retelling, teachers gain
insight into where children are in developing understandings of
concepts and words. Teachers find opportunities to model and
encourage vocabulary usage across the classroom environment.
When teachers or parents engage children in dialogue
about the text through questioning, making connections, and
elaborating on vocabulary, children’s expressive vocabulary in-
creases overall. Similarly, story retelling supports vocabulary
development by offering application contexts that are espe-
cially effective when teachers are coaching and/or using guided
Successful story retelling with young children relies on
their understanding of vocabulary found in the literature. But
it also encompasses understanding the organizational struc-
tures of stories and information. Next, we’ll explore how to
help organize story retelling for young children by analyzing
the structures of text.
Using Structures of Text to Organize and
Support Story Retelling
Before reading about pumpkins, this teacher
revisited the dissected pumpkin and the vo-
cabulary of pumpkins generated earlier in the
week with children. Exploring concrete items is
an effective strategy for developing vocabulary.
Children’s literature is our primary source of stories in literature-
based story retelling. Fictional (narrative) organizational
structures differ from the ways nonfiction (expository text)
is organized. Fictional organizational structures, also called story maps, are
generally similar to each other (and likewise nonfiction books are organized
in similar ways). This knowledge of story structure and organization helps
us with making meaning when we listen and we read. But this knowledge of
story structure—that it exists and that the structures of fiction and nonfiction
are different—comes with experiencing different types of text. It comes with a
thoughtful guide who helps us navigate the world of books.
Young children are just getting started in exploring story and nonfiction
texts, and they aren’t in a position to effectively analyze stories for their organi-
zational structures before retelling. When teachers provide the story’s organi-
zation, they support children in becoming successful with story retelling. Ways
to provide story organization to children are varied. Here are a few examples:
offer children prompts (such as questions) while retelling; include access to the
book while learning how to retell the story; provide specific props or visual aids
that serve as reminders of key parts of the story; and create a simple story map
on poster paper (or, as in the case of one teacher, make a story path on which
children place their props as they walk along and retell the story). Organizing
the story supports children in the retelling.
Before we look into how fiction and nonfiction stories are typically orga-
nized, it should be said that not all literature for the young child is organized in
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the typical way. In early childhood, literature is inclusive of songs, which may
or may not have much of a story line. Concept books abound and include topics
such as counting, emotions, ABCs, or balls. They have no problems, solutions,
goals, or meeting of goals. Sometimes authors will reveal concepts through an
organized structure, however, such as using a calendar to share the concept of
eggs hatching or metamorphosis. Other times, simple stories are told as add-on
or cumulative structures—I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly—or in
circles—If You Give a Mouse a Cookie (Numeroff 1985).
Identifying Narrative Text Structures
Retelling a specific fictional story requires the child to apply the story’s impor
tant vocabulary and its meaning to her overall understanding of how stories are
told: the structure or conceptual map of narrative text. Many template versions
of fictional story maps exist, from simple (beginning, middle, and end) to com-
plex (all story elements, problems, solutions, and themes). The Recommended
Resources section at the end of this book demonstrate how story structures are
used to create an organizing visual aid for retelling with young children. Our
mainstream conceptual map of a typical fictional story includes a setting, char-
acters, plot, theme, beginning, middle, end, and problem and solution:
The underlying simple structure of narrative text is in sequence:
beginning, middle, and end that flow linearly.
The beginning of a story is often associated with special wording
such as “Once upon a time,” “Long ago and far away,” or “There
once was a. . . .” Often we are introduced to all the main characters
and provided knowledge of the setting, and we may get hints of
a problem. Otherwise, the problem (or goal) emerges near the
The middle of the story typically is where the problem (or en-
deavor to reach a goal) heightens. The middle often culminates
at the climax of the story (if there is one) where problems are
resolved (or the goal is met).
The end of the story lets us know what happens after the climax—
and “they all lived happily ever after, the end”—with special
wording for the end of the story, especially in fairy tales.
A story has a sense of place and time: the setting.
A story has characters who are engaged in the action.
A story has a plot: the essential causal events.
A story includes a theme: the overall big idea the author is trying
to communicate to the reader, a moral, or a lesson learned.