Teaching the 5 Finger Retell Strategy

The five finger retell is a way to help students remember story elements and use them to properly retell a story. Retelling is when a student tells a story that they have read or heard. I believe the originator of this strategy is from Jan Richardson’s book The Next Step in Guided Reading – which I recommend that you check out!

What is the Five Finger Retell?

Before introducing it to your students, let’s talk about the 5 finger retell strategy. It is an exercise that lets anyone take note of the most important features of a story. By retelling a story in their own words, students are able to make connections. Making connections to things they know and understand (schema) is critical for comprehension.

Steps on How to Teach This to Your Students

In preparation to teach this skill make sure to have a story that you can use as an example. Start with simple fairy tales or stories that are popular with the children in your class.

Introduce the Five Finger Retell

When starting your 5 finger retell lesson plan, the first step is to figure out how to introduce the idea to your students. You should aim to explain it as simply as possible so that they can remember. Using a chart of the 5 finger retell can make it easier for you to show to your students about it too.

Tell your students that to summarize a story and retell it in the best way – they can use their fingers on one hand to remember the details:

  1. Show them that the thumb is when they name the characters. Tell them that a character is someone, whether they are human or not, that the story will have.
  2. Then, tell them that the pointer finger is about the setting. A story’s setting is about where the story will happen and where the characters will meet and talk to one another.
  3. After the first two fingers, the next finger you are to show them is the tall finger. Using that finger, tell them that they should remember how the story starts in the beginning.
  4. Once identifying the beginning of the story, ask your students to remember that they have to remember the middle story. They can do this by assigning it to their tall finger.
  5. On their last finger, the pinky, teach your students to remember the story’s ending.

Show an Example on the Five Finger Retell

After teaching how to use the five finger retell, the next step is to show them an example on how to use it during a story. For this one, show how to do it through two examples. You can choose a well-known story, like Sleeping Beauty, for the first example and show how to do it step-by-step. Point to your own fingers one by one and ask a student to name the parts of a story. If they’re stuck, you can give a hint until they find the new answer and let the other students know the correct answer.

Test Their Skills Using a New Story

Once your students remember the strategy, the next step is to assign 5 finger retell worksheets. You can opt to read a story out loud to the class at first then let them figure out the parts of the story on their own. Another option is to ask them to share a story in their own lives that they can share and use the strategy.

Strategies on How to Help Them Remember This Strategy

If any of your students are having a hard time remembering the five finger retell, you can do any of the following extras to assist them:

  • Give them a card that has the five finger retell chart on it. Make sure that you can let them put their hand on top of it and each finger will align on which story part. Let them refer to this during classroom activities and assignments.
  • If they are having a hard time identifying each part of a story, you can go through an in-depth lesson on each story part. Then, have exercises for them to identify only that one part before going back to the five finger retell.
  • Have both vocal and written five finger retell exercises with your students. Not only will this help them remember the strategy, but they can practice their critical thinking and writing skills at the same time.

We learned how you can teach your students to remember stories through the 5 finger retell method. It starts with introducing the concept up to giving them exercises while using this skill. When done correctly, it will help your students remember stories and increase their awareness of the world around them.