The Power of Retelling: Helping Students Understand and Interpret Stories

Stories are an integral part of human life. They convey experiences, emotions, and ideas, and help people connect with each other on a deeper level. In the context of education, stories play an important role in enhancing students’ literacy and language skills, as well as their cognitive and socio-emotional development. However, reading and understanding stories can be a challenging task for many students, especially those who struggle with reading comprehension, vocabulary, or critical thinking. One effective strategy that can help students overcome these challenges is retelling. This article will explore the power of retelling in helping students understand and interpret stories, and provide some practical tips for teachers to incorporate retelling into their teaching practice.

Theoretical Background

Retelling is a strategy that involves summarizing or paraphrasing a story in one’s own words. It requires students to actively engage with the text, reflects on the plot, characters, themes, and literary devices, and construct a coherent and meaningful narrative. According to Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory of learning, the retelling is a form of mediated action, where students use language to internalize and reconstruct the knowledge and skills they acquire from the social and cultural environment (Vygotsky, 1978). By retelling a story, students not only demonstrate their understanding of the text but also develop their oral and written communication skills, critical thinking, and creativity.

Retelling is also grounded in the schema theory, which suggests that readers use their prior knowledge and experience to make sense of new information (Anderson & Pearson, 1984). When students retell a story, they activate their existing knowledge about the world and connect it to the information they have learned from the text. This process helps them construct a mental representation of the story, or a schema, which can be used to facilitate comprehension, recall, and interpretation.

Benefits of Retelling

Retelling has been shown to have numerous benefits for students learning and development. First, it enhances their comprehension of the text. When students retell a story, they have to focus on the main ideas, events, and characters and organize them in a coherent and logical way. This process helps them identify the most important information, distinguish between relevant and irrelevant details, and create a mental map of the story. A study by Block and Pressley (2002) found that students who received explicit instruction in retelling strategies showed significant improvements in reading comprehension compared to those who did not.

Second, retelling improves students’ language skills. By retelling a story, students have to use a variety of vocabulary, grammar, and syntax structures and adapt their language to the context and audience. This process helps them develop their oral and written communication skills, and expand their linguistic repertoire. A study by Kim and Al Otaiba (2014) showed that retelling instruction had a positive impact on the vocabulary knowledge and comprehension of English language learners in elementary school.

Third, retelling fosters students’ critical thinking and metacognition. When students retell a story, they have to analyze the plot, characters, themes, and literary devices, and make connections between them. This process helps them develop their analytical and evaluative skills, and understand the deeper meanings and implications of the text. Moreover, by reflecting on their own retelling performance, students can monitor and regulate their learning strategies, and improve their metacognitive awareness. A study by Yang and Li (2019) found that retelling instruction enhanced students’ critical thinking and metacognition in a Chinese as a foreign language context.

Fourth, retelling promotes students’ socio-emotional development. When students retell a story, they have to empathize with the characters, understand their emotions and motivations, and make connections between their own experiences and those of the characters. This process helps them develop their empathy, perspective-taking, and social awareness, and understand the diverse perspectives and values of different cultures and communities. Moreover, retelling can also provide students with opportunities to express their own feelings and opinions, and build their confidence and self-esteem. A study by Kuo et al. (2017) found that retelling instruction increased the socio-emotional competence and self-efficacy of Taiwanese elementary school students.

Practical Tips for Retelling

Retelling can be incorporated into various aspects of teaching, such as reading, writing, speaking, and listening activities. Here are some practical tips for teachers to implement retelling in their classrooms:

  • Model retelling: Teachers can model the retelling process by demonstrating how to summarize or paraphrase a story, and highlighting the key elements and structures of retelling. This can be done through think-aloud, graphic organizers, or videos.
  • Provide explicit instruction: Teachers can provide explicit instruction on retelling strategies, such as identifying the main idea, sequencing the events, describing the characters, and using transition words. This can be done through mini-lessons, guided practice, or peer feedback.
  • Use visual aids: Teachers can use visual aids, such as pictures, videos, or diagrams, to support students’ retelling. This can help students visualize the story, remember the details, and activate their prior knowledge.
  • Encourage peer collaboration: Teachers can encourage peer collaboration by having students work in pairs or small groups to retell a story. This can help students develop their communication skills, build their social connections, and receive constructive feedback.
  • Provide feedback and assessment: Teachers can provide feedback and assessment on students’ retelling performance, using rubrics, checklists, or conferencing. This can help students monitor their progress, identify their strengths and weaknesses, and set goals for improvement.


Retelling is a powerful strategy for helping students understand and interpret stories. It can enhance students’ comprehension, language skills, critical thinking, and socio-emotional development, and provide them with meaningful and engaging learning experiences. By incorporating retelling into their teaching practice, teachers can support their students’ literacy and language development, and promote their lifelong love for reading and learning.

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