Retelling Stories of Author Chris Van Allsburg

My 4th grade students have been working on “retelling.” Their language arts teacher, Andrea Hernandez, asked me to work with the kids on this project after reading my post about retelling in 1st grade. The students began by watching some examples of 1st grade students retelling The Paper Bag Princess. They noticed that retelling is about telling a story again, emphasizing the various story elements, and speaking fluently and with expression. Since they had just learned about writing summaries in language arts class, they also noted it was okay to give away the ending of a book when retelling. When summarizing, however, one should “not give away any spoilers”.

For their retelling project, my group of ten 4th grade students focused on books by Chris Van Allsburg. This was a practical decision based on the fact that our school library owns several of his books, most are on my kids’ reading levels, and none of the kids were familiar with Van Allsburg’s work. Students began by finding a comfy spot in the library to read the book, study the illustrations, and then discuss the story.



The students then used a graphic organizer to help identify their story’s elements. Agreeing on the main events was challenging for some of the students, forcing them to convince their partners of their opinions. It was great listening to the kids digging deep into the stories!


Once the graphic organizers were completed, students began practicing retelling the stories to their partners. This was much harder than they had expected. The fact that I meet the students only once weekly for 40 minutes did not help. For some of the kids, at least, it seemed they needed a bit of time to get back into the story either by re-reading the book or carefully studying their organizer. I strive to let my students be as independent and self-directed as possible. So for this project I wanted the partners to coach each other’s story retelling by providing constructive feedback. Of course the added plus was that this also allowed the students to learn from each other. To aid in this process, I created a checklist.


Once students felt ready, the next step was to video record each other retelling the story. Some times it was camera shyness, other times it was lack of preparedness, and in some cases it was a matter of fluency–but for all students the recording stage consisted of multiple takes. In a couple of instances, students edited their own retellings, requiring a reminder that edited versions were not the point of retelling.


The last step was for students to embed the retelling video and write a brief post on their student blogfolios. Please watch some of their retellings, read their posts, and leave a comment!

Abigail Retelling from MJGDS Classrooms on Vimeo.

Isa’s Retelling from MJGDS Classrooms on Vimeo.


Real Author, Engaged Learning


My first graders and I had our very first author Skype visit! Now we are hooked! We had the great pleasure to visit with children’s book author Ame Dyckman, who published her first book last year, Boy + Bot. A second book is scheduled to come out this year, and she is already working on her third publication. Boy + Bot is a simple story about friendship and differences. Many of the beautiful  illustrations are wordless, but brought to life by Dan Yaccarino’s art. Ame gave freely of her time, a generous 30 minutes, visiting with us in Florida from her living room in New Jersey.

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To prep the students for our visit, I showed them the book trailer and then read the story. The students quickly articulated the theme: Friendship and being different. Several students listed how their friends are different from them, but are still great friends.

Then we brainstormed possible questions to ask Ame. Our curious students generated a long list, ranging from “What was your inspiration?” to “How long did it take you to write the book?” to “How do you publish a book?” to “Where do you live?” to “How many pets do you have?” and “What is your favorite sport?” Each student then chose a question and wrote it on a piece of paper. To avoid duplication, we went around the room and replaced those questions that were repetitive.

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During the Skype visit, two of our students introduced the class and then each student asked their question. Ame was so engaging and entertaining, generating more and more questions and comments! If we hadn’t kept her for 30 minutes already, our students would have gladly visited with her some more.

One student asked Ame to read a story and much to everyone’s delight, she read Bark, George by Jules Feiffer, one of her favorites. To top it all off, Ame had sent a package with Boy + Bot bookmarks, stickers, and bracelets — enough for each student in the class and extra for the library.


My take-away: Skyping with Ame Dyckman was a perfect introduction to virtual visits with authors. Students were engaged and inspired. This was an authentic event, telling students that authors are indeed real people who work hard at their craft to produce beautiful stories.

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Thank you, Ame!