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Using a Reader’s Notebook to Retell Stories in Sequence

By Julie Ballew on October 29, 2012
  • Grades: PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5

In addition to studying characters and making connections, students at my school have been working hard to retell stories in sequence. While this may not seem like a very difficult skill, it is often quite challenging for students to retell a story in order without naming every single detail.  One strategy we use is a simple BME (Beginning, Middle, End) chart.  Students are accustomed to practicing this orally, as we have a prompt card that pushes them to retell the beginning, middle, and end of a story across three fingers. Depending on their age, students might use pictures, words, or a combination of the two to complete a BME chart.

BME in Pictures

When students are using pictures to retell a story, I encourage them to mimic actual pictures from the book when possible.  This allows them to focus on the work of determining importance and sequencing – there will be other opportunities to sharpen their visualization skills!  In the photo at the top, Mrs. Victorian’s kindergarten class used pictures to retell some of their favorite stories.  The teacher used Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes to model choosing pictures that represent the beginning, middle, and end of the story, and the students tried to do the same with books from their book boxes.

In the photo below, I modeled the same strategy with the book How to Heal a Broken Wing by Bob Graham.  While you may not be able to tell right away (I’m certainly no artist), each drawing was lifted straight from the book.  I chose a key event from the beginning (the bird falling to the ground), the middle (the bird in a homemade bed), and the end (Will releasing the bird) to retell the story.

Book Cover - How to Heal a Broken Wing   BME of How to Heal a Broken Wing

Adding Words to Retell More Clearly

As students gain more control over the mechanics of writing, it is natural for them to express their thinking in words as well as pictures.  I was recently in a first grade class working on this.  They were proficient at retelling the beginning, middle, and end, and they were capable of sketching fairly quickly, so I pushed them to add words to their notebook entries.  The pictures below show my modeled response and their notebook entries.  We worked with the book Where’s My Mummy? by Carolyn Crimi.

Where's My Mummy Book Cover   BME for Where's My Mummy?

Student holding reader's notebook   Student Response to Where's My Mummy   Student holding reader's notebook

By second grade, students are relying much more heavily on words to retell a story, although many of them still make a small sketch. Students are pushed to write more than one sentence about the beginning, middle, and end, and they are asked to pay attention to the problem and resolution of stories. This serves them well as they move toward more expanded retelling. The examples below are from Mrs. Scott’s second grade class, where they read Those Shoes by Maribeth Boelts. You can see how all of these students wrote longer and sketched smaller.

Those Shoes Book Cover   Student BME for Those Shoes

Student BME for Those Shoes   Student BME for Those Shoes

I am really amazed at how our readers are sharing their thinking in their notebooks. I’m confident that they have been doing this thinking all along, but the notebooks have given them the opportunity to make it visible. What more could we ask for?

Comments (4)

I really appreciate how you show the progression of a concept from kindergarten through second grade - this is a great way for us teachers in one grade to get to see the "big picture."

Seeing that progression on a daily basis is one of my favorite parts of my job as a literacy coach. I'll try to show that more often in future posts.
~Julie

I really like this strategy of BME...makes sense to me and will to my kids as well. Your kids are so cute too!

I'm so glad it's helpful. I didn't invent it, but we use it all the time! :)
~Julie

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