3. Story retell

Task details

Name of oral assessment task Story retell
EAL curriculum level range  A1, A2, BL, B1, B2, CL, C1, C2
Text orientation Imaginative
Task type Oral presentation


Task specification

Purpose To assess students’ ability to retell a simple well-known story which they have previously retold in writing.
Description An oral retell of the story used in Writing Assessment Task 5 – Story retell. 
Assumed knowledge and description
  1. Content knowledge: Students should have completed the introductory tasks and the assessment tasks for Writing assessment Task 5.
  2. Text type, genre: narrative/retell – use of appropriate text structure: orientation/events/resolution
  3. Linguistic structures and features:


    • appropriate use of simple past tense, first person and conjunctions of time
    • use of first person pronoun
    • simple subject-verb-object sentences
    • use of connectors: and then, suddenly etc.
  4. Vocabulary: use of vocabulary from the story, plus additional appropriate vocabulary for retelling the story

Learning/teaching context

Language centre/mainstream class EAL Support
Learning area English
Topic/teaching unit Animals, pets
Assessment conditions
  1. Individual activity
  2. Formal/informal: formal, planned speech
  3. Time limit: time needed to finish the story
  4. Teacher intervention: Limited to use of basic prompt questions to keep the student engaged, and to elicit further detail, e.g. What happened next?  Why?  But as much as possible, students should be encouraged to attempt an extended text.  To assist in this, students can be given a ‘microphone’ to speak into, or can be asked to pretend they are a teacher telling students a story.
  5. Access to resources: front cover of the book
  6. Scaffolding (modelled/guided/independent support): guided
  7. Accommodations: Student may listen to another student doing their retell first.  If the story is deemed to be too babyish for older students, such as those at CL, substitute with a more sophisticated story, also with a simple story line.
  • Students should have had previous experience of this kind of activity. Choose texts with the following characteristics, that are age appropriate:
  1. ‘big book’ format
  2. simple story line
  3. well illustrated, with illustrations containing additional story elements
  4. one or two sentences to a page
  5. scope for further elaboration of the story
  • These kinds of texts are commonly found in early literacy reader sets. 

Task implementation

Pre-assessment activity
Assessment activity
  • Once students have read their own written retell to the teacher and before they write a final draft, they should be asked to retell the story with. The published text can be used as a prompt as they retell.
  • The student retell should be videoed for later assessment against the criteria.
Post-assessment activity
  • Students complete their final draft of the written task.


TEAL Oral Task 3- Unmarked criteria sheet [PDF]

TEAL Oral Task 3- Unmarked criteria sheet [Word]

An explanation of the purpose, nature and use of criteria sheets is available at 4. Using the assessment criteria.


Sample One
Sample Two
Sample Three
Sample Four
Sample Five




Purpose and value of task

This task assesses students’ abilities to retell a known story, and to add their own imaginative ideas to embellish the story. The story chosen should be engaging, but told mostly through the illustrations so that students are encouraged to add more detail to the story. Well-chosen picture story books give students scope to tell their own story, and to elaborate on what they see in the illustrations. The task elicits narrative and story-telling language, and assesses the ability students have to use linguistic elements common to narrative and storytelling, such as past tense, adverbials of time and use of first or third person narration. Text structure elements of a story retell are reinforced when students complete writing activities before they undertake an oral retell. This task is related to TEAL Writing Task 5 Story retell,  TEAL Writing Task 16 A ghost story, and TEAL Oral Task 12 Retelling a folk story or legend.

Contextual information

The students in these video samples were prepared by having the story read to them several times, in discussing what they saw in the pictures, and undertaking written tasks. Students at the later stages were asked to pretend they were retelling the story for younger students, and were asked to make it as interesting as they could for that audience.


Students at earlier stages were usually only able to name the characters and items in the story and give limited information about them, and about what happened. Their discourse needed to be heavily teacher-mediated, and students often echoed the vocabulary and phrases that the teachers use in their own questions and comments. Students are usually able to understand the teacher’s questions and comments, when they are predictable. Teachers modify their questioning to match the students’ understanding. This kind of discourse means that the present tense is usually used, in questions such as, ‘What’s happening here?’ with students talking about what is happening in the illustrations, rather than telling a connected story. Because of the way the discourse was structured, students used the third person in their retelling. Text structure elements were generally absent in this kind of discourse.

As their proficiency increases the students are increasingly able to provide more details in their retell, and to add more story-telling elements. They begin to use the past tense more, and can attempt a first-person recount. Their greater proficiency allows them to add detail and interest to their story, and to tailor it for the demands of a particular audience, such as for other students.

Age is also likely to be a factor in the students’ ability to produce a sustained, unprompted retell, and to maintain the use of grammatical features such as using the first person, or past tense. Younger students are more likely to need teacher prompting and questioning to add appropriate detail to their stories.

Sample One
Sample Two
Sample Three
Sample Four
Sample Five


Sample 1

Biographical information

Year level: 5

First language: Greek


The student is able to name some of the characters and items in the story, but is not able to tell a connected account without teacher questioning and prompting. He is able to name what he sees on the cover – See one dog and explaining why the dog is dirty – because it have … rubbish. He can name some objects on the cover – tree, grass.

He answers questions in short sentences following subject-verb-object patterns, in the present tense. He explains where the dog is – This picture is come to home, and can talk about what the dog has been doing, He’s playing in the water. He can talk about how the dog is feeling in the bath, S: He’s no like it. T: How do you know? S: Because the dog is not like the bathroom. He is not able to answer more complex, less predictable questions, T: What can you see about the dog’s face that shows it doesn’t like it? S: Have rubbish.

The marked criteria sheet shows that the student meets most criteria at level 1 and some at level 2 of performance.

The student’s language use in this task is consistent with the descriptions of students at Level B1, Victorian Curriculum F-10 EAL.

TEAL Oral Task 3 – Criteria sheet – Sample 1


Sample 2

Biographical information

Year level: 2

Home language: Croatian


Having just heard his teacher retell the story, the student is able to do a short retell of his own, without teacher questioning or prompting. He is engaged in the story throughout, adding detail and explanation.

He tells it in the past tense, and in third person, although the book and his teacher’s retell was a first person recount.

He begins with a personal statement, I think this dog needs a bath …, but then continues with his retell as a third person narrative, briefly retelling the basic elements, and staging his retell with the time markers, firstnext and lastly. He uses some quotes from the book, He kicked and splashed. He concludes with, She got wet.

After his retell, the teacher is able to elicit more detail about the story from the student. He explains why the dog needed to have a bath, and why she was dirty, with some interesting and imaginative detail: Because … because … he …when you open the door … you might see your dog running in your house and he’s very dirty. She was digging to hide her bone somewhere, when she was digging she got messy, she was more messier. His use of ‘more messier’ shows an interesting over-generalisation of the rules for forms of the adjective ‘messy’. He is able to answer quite complex questions such as T: What happened when she was in the bath? S: I think she was playing a game … because she might be bored. T: How did she get clean? S: Some soap and some water … and … by brushing.

The complexity of the student’s grammar and vocabulary increases when he talks about the story, compared to his retell.

The marked criteria sheet shows that the student meets some criteria at level 2 and most at level 3 of performance.

The student’s language use in this task is consistent with the descriptions of students at Level A2, Victorian Curriculum F-10 EAL.

TEAL Oral Task 3 – Criteria sheet – Sample 2


Sample 3

Biographical information

Year level: 5

Home language: Greek


The student gives a simple recount of the story, with little prompting and questioning from the teacher. He uses quite simple sentences, The child tried to wash the dog, The dog was dirty … but attempts some explanation of what is happening, Maybe … if … because … they in the grass … and things, but is less fluent when explaining than when retelling the events. He uses some story telling language, One day the girl was washing her dog … and the dog got mad and sad … but this is not really sustained. He mostly uses the past tense, but uses the future when he says, She washing her … the dog will get really sad. When the teacher asks him, What do you think will happen next? He doesn’t use the future tense, replying, When he come out he was clean, which fits in a retell like this.

The student is sometimes a little difficult to understand, but on the whole his pronunciation is good.

The marked criteria sheet shows that the student meets most criteria at level 3 of performance.

The student’s language use in this task is consistent with the descriptions of students at Level B2, Victorian Curriculum F-10 EAL.

TEAL Oral Task 3 – Criteria sheet – Sample 3



Sample 4

Biographical information

Year level: 5

Home language: Assyrian


The student is asked to pretend that he is retelling the story for the Prep children. He tells a short but fluent story in the past tense and in the first person, which he sustains throughout the retell. He tells his story without prompts or the aid of the illustrations. His sentence structure is basic, with run-on sentences, One day I and my dog went outside for a walk and then he saw … mud and then he went and played with itI put in lots of soap for it to be clean, but … and it splashed and splashed and then I got dirty. He uses some story-telling language, beginning with, One day …. 

He is able to add additional detail to his story in discussion with the teacher. After prompting from the teacher he produces a more interesting retell, I felt that he needed a shower. He was able to use the word ‘bath’ to say that his dog needed a bath, but did not know the name of the bath itself, initially saying, washing … I don’t know. Once assisted by his teacher he is able to use the word correctly. He maintains the first person right to the end, even correcting himself when he slips into the third person, to make the girl dirty … to make me dirty.

His pronunciation is clear.

The marked criteria sheet shows that the student meets most criteria at level 3 of performance.

The student’s language use in this task is consistent with the descriptions of students at Level B2, Victorian Curriculum F-10 EAL.

TEAL Oral Task 3 – Criteria sheet – Sample 4


Sample 5

Biographical information

Year level: 1

Home language: Hindi


The student initially retells the story with prompting from the teacher, but does not really take on a ‘story telling’ role. She tells her story in the third person. Her grammatical features are mostly correct, and she uses the same kind of language that her teacher uses … she jumped and splashed. She uses time marker, then. After her initial retell she is able to add detail to her basic story when questioned, … and how did the dog get so dirty? He … he just buried … he just buried the bone. The student has a good grasp of the vocabulary needed to discuss the story, and can answer all the teachers questions. Her pronunciation is clear and she thinks carefully before she answers.

The marked criteria sheet shows that the student meets most criteria at level 3 of performance and some at level 4.

The student’s language use in this task is consistent with the descriptions of students at Level A2, Victorian Curriculum F-10 EAL.

TEAL Oral Task 3 – Criteria sheet – Sample 5

Using the assessment to improve learning

Focusing on story structure

In order to help students to include the necessary detail when telling a story, ask them to fill out a table before they begin their story, and to use this as a prompt as they retell:


Who is in the story?

What are their names?

What do they look like?



Where is the story happening?



What problem do the characters have?


What happens?

What could have happened before?

What happened at the end?


Using interesting words

Students could view themselves retelling the story, and then be prompted to think about how they could have made it more interesting.

Read students the story again, including extra elements rich in descriptive detail, adverbs and adjectives. Use ‘storytelling’ language such as catch phrases like, Once upon a time, and What do you think happened next?

Ask them to think about the words that make a story more interesting. Group their suggestions under different headings:

Describing words Story-telling words  


dirty, filthy, muddy

sad, unhappy, angry, cross, sorry

happy, pleased, playful

big, huge, shaggy, black and white, friendly, naughty


soapy, bubbly, warm, slippery

Once upon a time …

Once there was a little girl …

What do you think happened next?


Students can be asked to take a word such as ‘dirty’, and add other words to make it more interesting, for example:


Very, very






Ask students to retell their story using some of this language.

Story telling tricks

To help students to recognise the basic literary devices and conventions in story telling in English, tell them a story in a flat monotone, without eye contact. With little engagement or detail about characters etc. Then retell the story in an animated voice, with facial expression, eye contact and gesture. Ask students which one they preferred listening to.

Can students articulate some of the strategies you used to make the story more interesting?

List them, for example:

  • Your voice went loud and soft
  • Your voice went fast and slow
  • You looked at us
  • You smiled and frowned
  • You used your hands to show things
  • You used a different voice for different characters
  • You told us what the characters were saying and thinking.

Ask students to practise some of these strategies and then video them again retelling the story. Older students can view their original video and the one where they have practised strategies, and discuss which one is more interesting and why.


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