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What Is It?

Sequencing is one of many skills that contributes to students' ability to comprehend what they read. Sequencing refers to the identification of the components of a story, such as the beginning, middle, and end, and also to the ability to retell the events within a given text in the order in which they occurred.

The ability to sequence events in a text is a key comprehension strategy, especially for narrative texts. Finding meaning in a text depends on the ability to understand and place the details, the sequence of events, within some larger context—the beginning, middle, and end of a story. The ordering of events in a story, along with connecting words such as once upon a time, then, later, afterwards, and in the end, are good examples of textual features, an understanding of which gives the reader a way of integrating the story's individual parts into its larger framework—and thereby understanding the author's purpose.

Why Is It Important?

As students listen to or read text, they are best served if they can understand the information as it is presented and then recall it at a later point. Beginning readers and those that have not had much opportunity to work on their sequencing skills have a tendency to retell a story by starting with the end, since it is the part that they read or heard most recently. Even more experienced readers may re-tell a story by focusing primarily on the sections that were most appealing to them rather than by giving a more complete picture of the events that occurred. (Fox and Allen, 1983)

Practicing sequencing helps remedy both of these issues and makes this aspect of reading comprehension second nature. If students are encouraged to identify the parts of a story, for instance, they will be better able to retell it to someone else, as it is a more manageable task to think of a story in pieces—the beginning, middle, and end—rather than try to recall it as one large chunk. Sequencing activities also provide an opportunity for students to examine text and story structure, which, in turn, strengthens their writing skills.

How Can You Make It Happen?

Sequencing is a skill that can be incorporated into any subject area, but it is often associated with teaching early readers. When selecting a text for a sequencing activity, start with a piece that contains distinct events; has a clear beginning, middle, and end; and that lends itself to being retold. Familiar examples of such stories include fairy tales and fables.

A variety of ways exist to help students hone their sequencing skills. Below are some ideas for practicing sequencing in the context of a read-aloud story or during independent reading.

Read Aloud

Prior to reading a story aloud, remind students that they will be working on their sequencing skills. Depending on your lesson, you might say, "As we read, let's think about what happens during the beginning, middle, and end of the story," or "After we finish reading, we're going to try to retell the story."

As you read, pause frequently to ask students to identify the events in the story and to encourage them to think about when the beginning gives way to the middle and the middle transitions to the end.

Once you have read the story, make lists with students about the events that occurred, trying to arrange them sequentially. Sentence strips work well for this type of activity, since events can be written on individual strips and then rearranged as necessary to put the events in the correct order. Let students use these lists or strips as reminders as they retell the story by acting it out with puppets, for instance.

Independent Reading

Begin by reminding students that they will be working on their sequencing skills. One strategy that may be helpful is to give students pieces of paper and pencils to use as they read. Students can write page numbers and a few words to remind them of important events in the story. For instance, a student who is reading Goldilocks and the Three Bears in order to retell it may jot down:

Goldilocks comes in
She eats the porridge
She breaks the chair
She falls asleep
The bears come home

This list doesn't tell the whole story, but it does provide the key elements, in order, and would serve as a good outline for someone wanting to retell it themselves. If this procedure is new to students, model it before asking them to do it on their own, using a read aloud story and recording your own ideas in a think aloud style to show students how to do this on their own.

Once students have completed reading, give them opportunities to write about their stories' sequences in a reading journal, to discuss their stories with partners, or to retell them to family members for homework.

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