Sequencing Pictures to Tell a Story: Why it Works

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Have you ever had a student mix up a story or struggle to tell events in the right order? They might be recapping a movie they watched over the weekend, but the retelling doesn’t quite make sense.

Being able to retell and sequence a story is an essential piece of the comprehension puzzle because, without it, our students can’t fully make sense of a text! Using pictures in story retell activities is a great way to make the activity accessible for all students and to keep them interested. 

Sequencing Pictures to Tell a Story: Why it Works title with a young child holding up a picture of flowers growing and one of a watering can

What is Sequencing in Storytelling?

Sequencing is simply telling a story in order. Well-sequenced stories use various story grammar elements and transitions to make them cohesive.

The struggle is when students read a sequential story and are not able to retell it using an accurate beginning, middle, end structure. Additionally, when they write, their stories are often out of order, lack organization, or are confusing.

Being able to tell a story in sequential order is critical for comprehension, clarity, and critical thinking. Those students who struggle with the skill might get stuck on one part of the story and retell it over and over. Or they might completely miss a large chunk of the story or tell it in the wrong order. 

Why use pictures for story retelling?

If you notice your students are struggling with retelling or are just beginning in their retell learning journeys, we highly recommend using pictures!

Pictures make great storytelling activities for both young and older students. You can have students read or listen to a text and then organize images from it, or you can give them images from a familiar task that has a clear progression (such as someone making their lunch). Before they begin to write the retell, students can analyze and sequence the images.
It may seem strange to use pictures, since we are so used to associating story retell with written text (we’re looking at you quarterly reading level assessments). But pictures have many benefits in helping your students build retell and sequencing skills. Let’s explore some of those benefits.

Pictures can work great for older students, too. You may have students with speech or language impairments who would benefit from pictures, or students who are new to learning English.

why use pictures for story retelling? photo has three shapes with answers being support visual organization, encourage students to write more, help ease anxiety

1. Pictures support visual organization.

Pictures help students understand the concept of beginning, middle, and end. As students view the pictures, they will be able to see where the natural transitions happen, which will support them in using words like first, then, next, and last.

Pictures can support students as they determine if a part of the story is out of order. If the order of the pictures doesn’t visually make sense, they will more easily realize the sequence has been affected. This allows students to edit their work before they even begin to write. 

Finally, pictures can support students when they begin writing because they won’t be required to remember everything right from memory – they’ll have the pictures to refer back to! This is key for students who may struggle with working memory or with generating ideas for writing in general

2. Pictures encourage students to write more

With the use of pictures, students can smoothly transition from visualizing to verbalizing and on to writing a story retell.

Oftentimes, we ask our students to picture the story in their mind and then require them to immediately begin writing. It can be hard for students to hold the mental image in their mind as they are writing. This leads to information being missed or very generic descriptions being used, if any at all. Using pictures eases some of this mental load.  

This is because students can now visually piece together the story with the actual images in front of them which helps them generate ideas for stronger, more specific vocabulary. 

Think of, for example, a student retelling a story from memory. The only details they can include in their written retell are those that stuck the first time they read it! Which, let’s be honest, is usually not very many. This means their writing will end up being lackluster and dry.

With the use of pictures, students are able to add more specific details like information about the setting, the names of places in the text, or even the names of some of the less important characters. The pictures help students recall more of the details that they read, but may not be able to easily access from memory. Adding these kinds of details will strengthen their retelling significantly and enhance the depth of their writing.

3. Pictures can help ease anxiety.

For students who struggle with writing, writing assignments can be an anxiety inducing and stressful activity. They may shut down or simply sit in their chair, inactive. By using pictures, you open up the door to writing for many students. They can help students make sense of abstract ideas in their head and allow them to generate organized, detailed, and complete story retells.

Retelling is a critical literacy skill, but sometimes finding the resources that provide high-quality story retell activities can be overwhelming! If you’re looking for something to use, check out our Picture Sequencing and Story Retell Bundle. 

This bundle has everything you need to practice retelling with your students all year! There are themed picture story retell activities for Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, and Easter, as well as seasonal activities. 

The bundle includes story retell activities that increase in complexity as students gain confidence in their picture retell skills. It works well for students at various levels of their story retell journeys. 

It is an engaging resource to use for small groups or station work. You can use it for warm ups, your teacher table, centers, and morning work. The possibilities for its use are endless!

Activities start by focusing on understanding the concept of beginning, middle, and end.

They then move on to sequencing pictures of familiar situations within the theme, and end with sequencing pictures about different length stories they read or listen to.

There is even a culminating activity where students will write retells using pictures.

Using this resource, students will begin expressing more vivid and organized stories. It’s a sure fire way to draw in students who don’t typically enjoy telling stories or completing writing tasks.

Want to try before you buy? Grab the Picture Retell freebie and give it a test drive!

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