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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Students will benefit from a variety of experiences with sequencing. Practice sequencing in different ways and with a variety of texts. Make games of sequencing practice by photocopying a short story, mixing the pages up, and asking students to reassemble them in the correct order (be sure to take the page numbers off the pages for this activity!). This type of activity can also be done with pictures by giving students a set of illustrations that tell a story or show a familiar step-by-step procedure, such as making a sandwich or getting dressed. Students then assemble the pictures so that the steps are in a logical order.
Older students who are being asked to retell a story can participate in self-evaluation by tape recording themselves as they do so. This technique allows students not only to practice the retelling but to listen to themselves and evaluate their own performances. Questions students can think about during this self-assessment include: Did I include the important aspects of the story? Are there any elements I should have included? Will my retelling make sense to someone who isn't familiar with the story?
Students can also expand on their retelling skills by rewriting plays they have read or heard and then performing those plays for their classmates or another class. This provides students with opportunities to think about sequencing in the roles of both readers and writers.
Students can sharpen their sequencing skills as they read independently, participate in small group reading activities, or listen to you read a story. Before reading a longer story with students, make charts labeled, "beginning," "middle," and "end." Pause after each section of the story to discuss what has happened and to record information on your charts.
Sequencing is an important skill in writing. One way for students to plan their writing is by creating an outline or a graphic organizer before beginning a piece. This provides opportunities for students to think about the sequence of events in a story they wish to tell or the most logical sequence in which to provide information in a nonfiction piece.
Math provides many opportunities for students to think about a process for solving a given type of problem. This process can be thought of as a sequence of steps. Students can list the steps of a process, such as finding a common denominator for a pair of fractions, and work with partners to follow those steps while solving applicable problems.
As students study history, they are often asked to keep track of series of events. Sequencing is a critical skill for this type of learning. Students can practice this skill by creating timelines showing the order of events. Students who are not yet involved in the study of historical events can still practice their sequencing skills by creating personal timelines, illustrating the course of their own lives.
Science experiments provide a great opportunity for honing sequencing skills. Not only can students practice following a sequence of steps to investigate a particular concept but many experiments provide a dramatic way for students to try to take a set of mixed-up instructions and put them in a logical sequence. Students may find that some experiments can only be done in a specific order while others can be done in a variety of sequences. For instance, one experiment to investigate the chemical reaction between acids and bases involves pouring a small amount of baking soda into a balloon. Vinegar is then added to the balloon. The gas produced by the reaction between the baking soda and the vinegar inflates the balloon. Students might extend this experiment by altering the sequence of the steps. Ask them if the results are same if they put the vinegar in the balloon first, for example.
Sequencing: The Very Hungry Caterpillar
This lesson is designed to introduce sequencing to primary students. In this lesson, students discuss events at the beginning, middle, and end of the story, and then sequence those events. This lesson is the first of a set of sequencing lessons designed for primary grades.
Sequencing: Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile
This lesson is designed to establish the skill of sequencing for primary students. In this lesson, students discuss the order of events in the story using a graphic organizer. This lesson is the second of a set of sequencing lessons designed for primary grades.
Sequencing: The Hare and the Tortoise
This lesson is designed to expand the skill of sequencing for primary students. In this lesson, students discuss the sequence of events in the story and retell the story with partners. This is the final lesson of a set of sequencing lessons designed for primary grades.