How to Teach Summarizing through Recounting and Retelling

The Journey to Teaching Summarizing

When I first started teaching, my 5th grade students REALLY struggled with summarizing. It was a skill I expected them to already know, and I couldn’t figure out how to teach summarizing so my students could master this important skill. It seemed so simple to me yet it was so difficult for them. I discovered that summarizing requires the ability to recount and retell, and at first I didn’t realize my students lacked these vital skills. When I scaffolded my instruction, students were able to develop these prerequisite foundational skills. If your students are struggling with summarizing or if you’re looking for tips on how to teach summarizing more effectively, try using this strategy. Your students will be recounting, retelling, and summarizing with ease in no time!

What is Retelling vs. Recounting vs. Summarizing?

Retelling is orally telling all of the events in the beginning, middle, and end of a story.

Recounting is retelling in written format.

Summarizing is a brief account of the major events in a story.

Retelling is the lowest order skill since it is oral while summarizing is the highest order skill because it requires students to determine the most important details in a story.

I recommend ensuring students can orally recount before you progress to written recounting and summarizing.

Using Visuals 

  • The retelling rope or summary stick visual is a great tool to teach kids to recount or summarize orally. You could also do this with a five-finger retell or “somebody, wanted, but, so, then” summary.

Woman holding a retell rope containing steps in a story to help kids recount, retell, and summarize the story.

  • I also really like the visual of a retelling rope or summary stick. When paired with the transition words, the visual really helps students progress through the details of the story.
  • Follow the Yellow Brick Road oral retelling is a great way for students to move through each “step” in the story while having the visual of traveling.

The ultimate goal is to provide enough practice so that students can recount, retell, and summarize without any visuals.

How to Scaffold Your Instruction

Retelling to Recounting

  1. Start with tons of modeling and guided practice with oral retelling. Use visuals such as the retelling rope and “Yellow Brick Road”.
  2. Once students can orally retell a story with ease, progress to modeling and practicing written retelling. It is very helpful to start with a graphic organizer. The sequential organization and keywords help students organize their thoughts.
  3. Once students can complete a retelling graphic organizer, have them use their graphic organizer to write a retelling in paragraph form.


  1. Begin with oral summaries. Lots of modeling and guided practice as a class and in small groups before students work independently.
  2. Use graphic organizers to organize the story events. A graphic organizer will help students determine the most important events and ensure they keep their summary in chronological order.
  3. Use summarizing graphic organizer to develop a summary paragraph.


By using scaffolding to teach summarizing,  you can differentiate for students who need more instruction. Start by giving them more visuals, such as the hand and summarizing stick, to model story retellings. Have students practice summaries in small groups. Students who need more support can use story illustration cards to identify the characters, setting, and events in sequential order. For students who need more support, they should focus on the retelling before progressing to summarizing orally. Do not move to written summaries until they have the oral piece mastered.

Printed pages containing stories with illustrations colored with crayons that are laying across pages with a pink background under the pages

The cut-and-paste sequence illustrations found in my Recounting, Retelling, and Summarizing bundle are a great visual for students who need more support.

If you’re looking for how to teach summarizing more effectively, try using this scaffolding technique. Then send me a note to let me know how it went!

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