Using simple crafts to retell stories

Most lessons that are based around telling stories include a follow-up activity after the storytelling. In my lessons, I like to include some kind of craft activity. They provide the opportunity to recycle story language, create a record of their learning, and are an easy way to keep families informed about what their children have been working on. For more about the benefits of crafts for language learning, and practical considerations, read my post about How to teach English through arts and crafts.

In this article, I’ll focus on how I use craft to retell stories and share some easy craft ideas for you to take straight into your classroom. If we only focus on isolated vocabulary after the storytelling, we’re missing out on valuable opportunities to teach useful phrases and structures that appear in the story. That’s why I like to include as much story retelling as possible in the construction of the craft itself, as well as in the activities we can do with it afterwards.

How to include story retelling while making the crafts

Retell the story in stages. At each stage, the children have to listen, so that they know which part of the craft to complete. You can choose what you want the children to do:

You can retell the story in order, pausing at points for the children to complete that part of their craft, or you can retell the story out of order. It all depends on how challenging you want to make the activity. I use templates from my Story Activity Packs, but it’s really easy to make quick templates yourself. I’ll tell you how, in the descriptions below.

Mini-book crafts

A mini-book, at its simplest, is a book folded out of a single page of A4 paper. If you’re not sure how to make them, watch my videos on how to make an 8 page mini-book and how to make a 16 page mini-book.

How to make your own mini-book templates – the easiest way!

You can, of course, simply give the children blank pieces of paper, and make the mini-book together. They can draw their own images to represent the different story events. If you go for this option, you’ll need to make sure they know how much time they have to draw their picture. You’ll also need to manage expectations about the quality of the drawing. You’ll quickly have some frustrated little people on your hands if you don’t!

Alternatively, have them do a find and stick activity with pictures to represent the story events.

  1. Source 6 to 8 images to represent the main story events (for an 8 page mini-book).
  2. Print enough images for each child.
  3. Cut them up before class and place them around the room or in a collection spot.
  4. Make the mini-books with the children from blank A4 paper. Note: For children under 6, I prefer to make them myself to save time for my main lesson focus, and also because the wee ones struggle with the folding.
  5. Retell the story and pause at each key point. The children listen and collect and stick the pictures into their books in time. They can design their own front cover : )

Story wheel crafts

Story wheels consist of 3 elements: the outer wheel, the inner wheel and a butterfly clip to hold them together. You can include a find and stick the picture element with these too, but bear in mind that they will probably become unstuck over time!

How to make your own story wheel templates

  1. Draw or use a program to create two identical circles.
  2. Divide the lower wheel into the number of story events you want to include.
  3. Cut a segment out of the top wheel. It should be the same width as the segments on your lower wheel.

With very young learners, you’ll need to source images to represent the story events (or draw your own!) With students aged 8 and up, you might like them to write a story event instead.

How to make story wheels while retelling the story

You can tell the story out of sequence, so that your students have to identify the correct image to colour. If you are getting your students to draw or write a story event, you can elicit what they think comes next in the sequence.

Storyboards

Storyboards are perhaps the most simple of retelling crafts. They provide a visual representation of the story, with the events in sequence.

How to make your own storyboard templates

You can, quite simply, have your students divide a piece of paper into boxes for each story event. Personally, I prefer to give very young learners a printed template with the boxes already prepared for them. It just makes my life and theirs easier! Here are some ideas for what you can do:

Storyslider crafts

These are another nice visual representation of the story. The images (or text) are revealed as they pull the inner slider through an envelope. Again, the linear nature of this craft, makes it great for retelling and sequencing while making it.

How to make your own story slider templates

At its most basic, all you need is:

I like to do this in one of two ways:

  1. I cut up the images before class and as I retell the story, I pause before each new event. The children tell me what happens next, we check with the book, then they collect the relevant picture to stick in their inner slider.
  2. I let the children work at their own pace, but they need to come and ask me for each story event picture. It gives them the chance to retell parts of the story, using the key phrases.

Find and stick scenes

I include a find and stick element in a lot of my crafts because it gives them a lot of opportunities to hear the language several times. Quite often, while they are hunting for the image they need, they are replaying the target language again and again. They will be saying the key word as they look for it, or asking their classmates if they have found it yet. If one child finds an extra image, they will usually offer it to another child using the target language.

As a story retelling activity, instead of simply saying, “Snake”, “It’s a snake”, “I can see a snake”, or another structure with the key word embedded, I’ll use the story language and try to elicit the word from the students. This way, the students are hearing the story language more, building a latent knowledge of English grammar, and developing stronger associations with the story itself. In turn this will help them commit the language to memory.

As an example with One Mole Digging a Hole, I can say, “Eight (beep) with a garden hose”. I will try to elicit, ‘crows’. They may well say the word in L1, and I’ll reply “Yes! Eight crows with a garden hose”. If they can’t remember, I’ll have the book (or a storytelling video) to hand, and that usually does the trick.

Of course, you can also create these scenes and have the children ask for the items with story phrases too.

Sequencing fans

Enormous turnip sequencing

These are a fun craft to make that help with sequencing skills and can be used in games, dances or other retelling activities after you’ve made them.

How to make your own sequencing fan templates

In the example, there are 8 different seqments with rounded corners. You can make this even simpler by just cutting a sheet of card into strips.

  1. OPTIONAL – Cut and paste your images onto your strips or segments before printing. You won’t need to do this if you plan to have the children stick or draw on their own images.
  2. Cut out enough rectangular strips or segments for each child. It’s best to use card rather than paper, so that the craft holds it’s shape.
  3. Pierce a small hole in each segment. This will make it easier for the students to push the butterfly clip through as they assemble their craft. I like to use a crafting knife to do this because I can do several segments at once. Just make sure you put a sturdy piece of cardboard underneath. You don’t want to pierce your furniture!
  4. In class, retell the story and pause at key points for the children to collect their pieces. I prefer to retell once so that they collect all their pieces. I sometimes retell the story again so that they colour the segments in the order I dictate.
  5. OPTIONAL – The students can write or stick on text on the back of each segment.
  6. Assemble the segments in the order of the story. You can include retelling at this point too!

Colouring dictations

A lot of people don’t consider colouring activities to be crafts. In my classroom, I classify them as crafts too. Very young children see them as something they get to make in the same way as they would make something more complex. I also think of them as crafts in a way, because I can use them in an interactive way.

As a story retelling tool, quite simply, we retell the story, pausing at points so that the kids colour the relevant item from the story. They enjoy predicting and remembering what comes next. They find this much more interesting than if I were simply to tell them which things to colour.

Interactive drawing

This is better suited to older students, aged 8 and up, who are more confident with drawing. All you need is a sheet of A4 paper. Go through the picture book with the students and decide how many main story events there are. Ask the students to divide up their paper into rectangles for the number of different events.

Now, start retelling the story. Pause at each key point and the students draw an image to represent that part of the story. Make sure you manage expectations so that they don’t spend too long trying to draw the perfect picture. You could insist on only using stick figures, for example. Another useful tip for this type of activity is to decide on a time limit for each drawing stage.

Dramatise with stick puppets & headbands

examples of puppets and masks to retell stories

These crafts are generally used less for story retelling while making them, and more for retelling activites after they are made. I’ve included them here though, because sometimes I like the kids to make their own complete sets. If they have their own complete sets, they can use them to retell the stories at home with their families. They can also use them to play in small groups, or dramatise the story in a future story retelling session. Here are some simple ways you can include story retelling during their construction. Each student will need a template with all the characters/story events printed on them.:

Final thoughts

It’s so important not to let the story just disappear after you’ve told it. Stories are an important tool for so many reasons, but for language learning in particular, we need the story language to be recycled several times if we want our students to acquire key language. Craft activities like the ones discussed here are fantastic, not only for the possibilities they give us to dramatise and retell stories afterwards. We can incorporate a lot of retelling in the making of the crafts too. Of course there are lots of ways to retell a story that don’t involve arts and crafts. Have a look at our article on retelling stories for more ideas.

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