April 2018 -

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Ben Throop

Retelling a story using visual strategies

The ability to retell a storybook is a skill that many children struggle to learn. For example, I work with a particular child who struggled with retelling a story. She could answer a few questions about the story, but struggled to create a few comments that described what she understood about the story. Repeatedly, when I finished the story she could only make a comment or two. Occasionally, these comments were not even related or true! And she always told me that everyone “lived happily ever after.” Whether that was a result of her love for princesses or a certain animation company’s relentless search for bliss, it still remained that I need to find a way to help this little girl find a way to retell me a story. I knew she had the ability to comprehend the words, sequence events, and recall information. I also knew that she is a visual learner. I decided to use visual cue cards to begin teaching her how to sequence plot events and recall important parts of a story.

To begin making the visual cue cards, I first found a handful of Kindergarten books that had clear plot lines. A few great ones I found were: “The Knight and the Dragon,” “A Porcupine named Fluffy” and “The Tiny Seed”, as well as most Fairy tale books (3 Billy goats gruff, Goldilocks and the three bears, 3 little pigs). Then, I took each book and picked out 4-6 relevant parts of each story. Each of these parts of the story was then made into a visual cue card. I made the cards in one of two ways; either with directly scanned images from the book itself or with symbols found in Mrs. Riley.

Scanned image method: I scanned in the relevant pictures, one by one, of the story’s plotline onto my computer and saved each image.  Once it was saved, I created a new 3”x3” template in Mrs. Riley. I then uploaded the scanned plot images by going to the “new card” feature. After selecting the saved image, I would drag the image to one of the squares on the template. When the template was filled with my images, I printed out the page. The images were then cut out.

Symbols method: First, I created a 3”x3” template in Mrs. Riley. Then with a list of relevant events in the story, I searched for symbols within Mrs. Riley’s database that would represent the key points in the story. Once I filled the template with symbols or pictures that represented the story events, I printed out the page and cut into cards.

Each method can be used as visual supports, yet one may work more effectively for an individual child. I found that the scanned images directly from the story book worked better for the child I was working with. I recommend trying out both methods; each with a different book. Then you can see which method seems to be more effective for a particular child.

Now with my trusty visual cue cards in hand, I attempted to teach this child to retell a story again. We read a particular story for a few days in a row. Following the story, I would ask her to tell me what happened or to tell me about the story. Following these instructions, I would immediately lay out the pile of images and teach her to sequence the images in order. Once she finished doing this, we both went through the images and ‘retold’ the story with a comment or two about each image. Once she sequenced and told me the story independently with the visuals, I took away the visuals. I then began asking her to remember the story without the visual prompts. At this point, she was successful and even began adding details that were not in the visual pictures! It seemed that the pictures were acting as cues for her to remember other parts of the story as well.

So, we did these procedures for a few stories. After the 4 or 5th story, she was able to begin to sequence the events of a story in her head and retell me a story without ever needing visuals for that particular story! We now read novel books and she is able to tell me the story in her story telling voices.  Occasionally, I still get a “and they lived happily ever after” at the very end of her retelling, but some of the time she is right. Some stories do end in happily ever after…


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Mrs. Riley was created so professionals, teachers, and parents could collaboratively make educational materials, starting with picture cards. If you've ever made a picture card with a custom image yourself, you know that it can be tedious. We understand and after going through it ourselves for so long, we decided to wrap the entire process into a single online application.

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