How to Use Retelling for Assessing Reading Comprehension

Teachers can model retelling fluency after they read aloud to the class.

Retelling is a reading skill that demonstrates comprehension. Retelling is the ability to read or listen to a story, then summarize it in paraphrased form. Children begin learning the basics of retelling in kindergarten where teachers start to informally assess the students' overall understanding of a story. Retelling is a useful assessment tool throughout school because it can measure simple to advanced comprehension, as well as help students improve their listening and speaking skills.

Review retelling strategy. Model it again for those who may struggle. Read a short story aloud to the class, then summarize the important details in the correct sequence. Write each summarizing statement on chart paper. Number the statements so students understand how to retell in the order that events happened.

Choose an instructional level text, like a short story from a reading book or a chapter from a novel, that is leveled for the grade you teach. Preview the material by looking at pictures or discussing the main characters and the setting. This helps students build background knowledge and make connections between the story and their own real-life experiences.

Give adequate time for students to read and think about what they've read. If you explain that retelling will be the method of assessment, students may read more carefully. If the retell is in written form, you can allow 35 to 45 minutes for reading and 15 minutes for the assessment. Oral retelling will take longer because you will question students individually.

Use a rubric to assess. This gives you documentation to show students and parents what areas of weakness exist, if any. Rubrics do not have to be long, just thorough. For example, address four or five key areas of comprehension and grade according to the 1,2,3 system in which "1", "2" and "3" indicate basic, proficient and advanced comprehension respectively.

Karen Hollowell has been teaching since 1994. She has taught English/literature and social studies in grades 7-12 and taught kindergarten for nine years. She currently teaches fourth grade reading/language and social studies. Hollowell earned her Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Mississippi and her Master of Arts in elementary education from Alcorn State University.