Retell Using The Five W’S

Noting the five W’s of any event lays a good foundation for an accurate retelling.

Summarizing using the five W’s — who, what, where, when and why — is a favorite lesson of elementary school teachers. Students learn retell a story in their own words without forgetting any important details. While the five W’s will always have a place in primary school, they are just as essential for adult communicators. While journalists, writers and public speakers use more sophisticated language, they rely on the five Ws to gather the basic information needed to tell a well-rounded story.


1. Begin by specifically stating in a few words what you are retelling or summarizing. For example, are you retelling the events that occurred in the first chapter in a book you read? Or are you going to provide information about a social event in your town?

2. Identify whom the story is about, and include pertinent details about the person or group of people. For example if the story is about a political official, include his title and party affiliation. If the story is about a local charitable organization, state its mission.

3. Tell where the events took place. Make sure you include as much context as necessary, depending on who is reading or listening to your account. You may need to include the city, state or country where the event happened.

4. Report when the event happened. If you’re writing a news article, include specific dates. If you’re retelling a story, tell your readers if it occurred in the past or present day. You can also convey context by saying whether the event occurred before or after other events.

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5. Reveal why the event happened. Did the city pass new legislation in response to increasing crime rates? Did the character in the story run away from home because he felt unloved? In journalistic reporting, you’ll also want to communicate why this information is newsworthy.

6. Many writers add another component to the five W’s. This is the “how.” Tell how the events unfolded. This information should come after the five W’s and provide more detail.

7. If you’re constructing a news story, state all five W’s in the first paragraph of your article. Even if your retelling is less formal, your readers or listeners will appreciate it if you get to the point right away. Use the five W’s to lay the groundwork for what you’re discussing, and flesh out the details later.