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Reflect, Retell, & Retain

“To read without reflecting is like eating without digesting.” – Edmund Burke

From the desk of Leigh Ann . . .

There is a joy in watching young learners develop as readers – to see them move from merely calling words to truly understanding the meaning of a text is inspiring. Comprehension skills can be developed by purposefully teaching strategies that help readers construct meaning. One behavior that supports reading comprehension is active reflection; another is the thoughtful retelling of a text. The modeling and guided practice of these skills is time well spent because when readers reflect and retell they have more meaningful retention.

During read-alouds, I often stop and reflect with my kindergartners about what was read, the meaning of the literary language, and the things we can infer from the information we gain along the way.  After reading, we focus on the big 5 – characters, setting, beginning, middle, and end. Hands-on materials that focus on those elements can be useful tools when students are challenged to retell a story. Here’s an example:

I enjoy folktales that tie into content areas and use characters with which students can easily connect. Here is my version of how the Chinese Zodiac emerged.

The Chinese New Year begins on Friday, Feb. 16th, and it is the Year of the Dog. Would you like to know more?

Long ago in China, the Emperor planned to hold a great New Year’s celebration. He sent invitations to all the animals of the land to thank them for the beauty they added to his kingdom. The animals were thrilled and each worked to prepare fur, feather, and scales to impress the emperor. Cat lost his invitation and could not remember the date of the celebration, so he went to ask Rat the details. Rat, usually a very friendly animal, was experiencing a terrible tooth ache when cat came to visit. Not wanting to check his calendar or converse with Cat, the Rat quickly shouted, “Saturday will be the fun day! Now please leave me alone!” Cat thanked Rat and went home, excited that he had an extra day to wash and comb his coat.

That very Friday night, as Cat was combing his fur, he heard the animals laughing and singing as they left the emperor’s palace. He looked out the window just in time to see the emperor waving good-bye to his honored guests. Cat quickly ran outside and asked, “What is happening?”

Pig quickly replied, “Where were you, cat? You missed it all! The celebration was wonderful! The emperor was so impressed that he named a year after each of us – in the very order that we paraded over the bridge tonight!”

From that day forward, each year has been named in honor of one of the animals that marched joyfully from the palace: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Pig. Cat was so devastated that he missed the celebration (and the naming honor) that he and Rat have been enemies ever since. 

After reading this story aloud or having students read independently, challenge them to retell the tale. Click on the links below to find tools that students can use to help in constructing their summaries and build meaning. Here are a few other enrichment opportunities:

  • Explore the personification of the animals of the Chinese Zodiac.
  • Write and illustrate about the animal of your birth year.
  • Write a sequel to the story – Cat’s Revenge.
  • Create puppets and act out the story.

Chinese Zodiac
Character Traits of the Animals of the Chinese Zodiac

Guided reading expert Jan Richardson tells us, “The goal of guided reading is to support students as they construct meaning from the text and develop a love of reading.” We want to grow readers – readers who are inspired by the knowledge and joy that come from reading!

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