Deep Comprehension = A move from Retell to Summarization

Helping your students to capture knowledge while reading is NOT easy!  We hear about modeling, think aloud, direct instruction but what do our students need?  They need to see the structure of the text so they can help make sense of it.

Without YOUR skeleton your body would have no shape and would not function. We have to help students see how an author creates the text by writing it with a structure.

Students interact with fiction at an early age but when do we begin instructing them on how all fiction stories are organized?   The basic structure of any fiction story contains the five elements:  characters, setting, problem, solution and the mood.  When I begin teaching children about fiction we will refer to the 5 basic elements as the BIG FIVE.  I use my hand because as I hold it up each time and refer to the elements–the students are “creating” a map in their mind of the structure of fictional text.

Begin reading stories with basic story structure (singular story problem or plot line) to begin modeling for students.  While reading, stop after several pages, hold your hand up and go through each element while pointing to the corresponding finger which helps students begin to create  connections.  If a student can identify each element, then they do understand the story on a basic level.

The next step, have students begin retelling the story using the BIG FIVE following this basic outline:


The story is about __________________ (Character) who is at ___________________ (Setting).  He/She wanted to _____________________________ but _____________________(problem).  So, he/she _____________________________ (Solution). When _____________________ happened he/she felt ____________________.


Retelling is the K-1 expectation for students. Retelling helps students begin to make sense of a story in a logical sequence. Understanding the “structure” or how the story was “built” helps a child retell main events.

By 2-3 grade, students should be transitioning from a simple retell to recounting a story.  A “recount” of a story requires students to synthesize information into a more concise version of a retell.  A recount begins by explaining who is in the story and where it takes place. The reader then synthesizes information into a clear beginning, middle and end. They share a recount with phrases such as:

  • In the beginning,
  • First,
  • In the middle,
  • Next,
  • At the end,
  • Finally,
  • In conclusion

These phrases encourage the reader to understand the sequential order of the events as they did in a retell but begin to combine or classify them into beginning, middle and end. This requires students to begin categorizing information and combine like ideas.

Here is a sample organizer for recount.

recount-122nm1l Graphic Organizer for Recount

Finally, 4th grade students begin to summarize text which takes the understanding of a story to the next level. Students have to have a sequential understanding of the text and still combine the ideas but take it one step further to organize and synthesize the most important events or ideas into a cohesive and SHORT paraphrase of the text.

Here is a sample organizer for a summary.

mi-1zpb14c– Summary Graphic Organizer

Understanding the structure of  fictional text is essential. Understanding the structure helps students build the ability to sequence ideas for a retell which is simply a natural conversation about a story in order. Once a student can retell a story, the next step, is to begin to synthesize ideas.  Students put these ideas into a clear beginning, middle and end which is known as a recount.  Finally, learning to paraphrase and condense relevant information in a logical manner is a summary.

A child’s ability to move from “retell to recount to summarizing” is the move from basic recall of a story to deep comprehension of the ideas, events and characters. Don’t allow students to simply retell once they have this mastered so they continue to deepen thinking.



2 Thoughts.

  1. Thanks for providing steps and graphic organizers in how we should start in kindergarten and proceed through the grade levels. I believe if this was started in kindergarten and taught to fidelity throughout the grade levels, it wouldn’t be as difficult in upper grades. Great article. Write a Book!!!!

  2. Ha Ha
    Summarizing is tough and has to be worked on for a long time to master. Synthesizing requires tons of tiny skills mastered to “get it.”

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