Retelling, summarising (PDF, 26 KB)
The purpose of the activity
Retelling (for example, an instruction, event, story or a lecture) is a widely-used skill in everyday life as well as in a work situation. When we retell, we usually summarise by compressing what we have heard, read or seen into a shorter text (for example, retelling the plot of a two-hour movie usually takes a few minutes).
The purpose of this activity is to help learners select the most important ideas or information and retell them in a coherent way so that a listener can get the gist of the story or event that is being retold. This involves selecting which ideas or information are important and rejecting detail that may be interesting but is not relevant to the main ideas.
The teaching points
- Learners listen for the gist and recall the most important ideas and information.
- Learners make decisions about details to include or ignore.
- Learners bring the retelling together in a way that will make sense to the listener, that is, coherently.
- Consider an alternative text (this could be a lecture the learners have heard, a movie or documentary they have seen, or an event they have all witnessed).
The guided teaching and learning sequence
1. Explain the purpose of the activity to the learners and ask them to share examples of times when they have retold a story, event or a movie to someone else.
2. Ask the learners to discuss the things they did to retell, such as cutting out a lot of the details. Let this discussion run without your intervention until the group has exhausted their ideas, then ask one or two people to summarise what they discovered.
3. Give the learners brief feedback on the ideas they have shared about retelling, clarifying any points as necessary and ask the learners to keep these ideas in mind as they listen to the audio resource.
4. Play the audio resource or other example: if you are using a shared experience of a lecture, movie or other event, give the learners a brief reminder of the topic or title.
5. Ask the learners to spend a few minutes in silence as they think about how they will retell what they have heard or seen: ask them to identify (in their heads) the main ideas or information and to think about which details are important and which details they can leave out.
6. Next, have learners work in pairs. One person will give a retelling and the partner will listen and give the speaker feedback on the accuracy and coherence of their retelling.
7. Bring the group back together and debrief: partners can comment on the retelling they heard and share the feedback they gave the speaker. Speakers can talk about how they made their decisions and evaluate their own retelling.
8. With the learners, review the ideas they had about retelling at the start of the activity. What have we learned? How can you make your retelling both accurate and coherent? What happens if the retelling is not coherent? What would you do differently next time?
Learners can practise using strategies they have learned any time they retell an event or a story with their friends, family, class or workmates.
Play a version of Chinese Whispers, in which you start by reading or telling one person a reasonably long (3 or 4 minutes to tell) story, instruction or description. Ensure no one can hear the original story or the subsequent retellings. Each person in turn retells the story to another person, giving what they believe are the main ideas and details. When the story has gone around the group, the last person tells their version aloud. Tell (or read) the original story as accurately and fully as you did the first time. Discuss the way the retelling may have altered the details, noticing which details have been left out and what (if anything) has been added or misrepresented.
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