Summarizing: Tips & Tricks to Make it Work!

Teaching summarizing is difficult!  This is a strategy that includes many other skill sets that students need to be proficient in, in order to successfully create a true summary.  They need to know how to identify the main idea of a text.  The students also need to know how to decide between relevant and irrelevant information.  There’s a lot to juggle!  I talk to many teachers that say, teaching summarizing is one of the hardest topics they face each year.  Today, I would love to share some of my best tips and tricks to teaching summarizing in hopes that when you’re writing your lesson plans for reading comprehension, you can use these to help!


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Summarizing:  Tips and Tricks to Make it Work!

Relevant vs. Irrelevant Information

Like I mentioned above, teaching summarizing means students have to juggle many smaller skill sets in order to put together a strong and meaningful summary.  Not only do students need to have a fully working memory of the entire text, but they also need to be able to sort through all of the information and distinguish between which pieces of information are relevant and which are irrelevant.  This is a great prerequisite skill and activity that you can do with your students to get them ready to summarize!

What do you do?  It’s simple!  Before summarizing the text, students will draw a simple T-Chart and label the sides ‘important’ and ‘not important’.  They will then, using their memory, think about information in the text that is truly important to the summary and which items they remember that wouldn’t be important.  Once they do this and have valuable information on the ‘important’ side – then you can have them use that to create their summary.  If you notice that the students are not able to correctly separate their information, then you know they are not ready to move into summarizing quite yet!

Strong Vs. Poor Summaries

Another trick to help your students with summarizing is to concretely show them the differences between a strong & a poor summary.  Many times, all students see is a strong summary – either Summarizingmodeled by the teacher or shown in a book.  But when teaching, we need to make sure students get to see both sides.  They need to see what a strong summary is just as much as a weak summary.

One activity I love to do is to have students sort out summaries.  I will type up short stories and three summaries to go along with each story.  One of the summaries is perfect, one has too much information, and the last one has too little.  Then the students read the short stories and sort the summaries accordingly.  This really helps paint a wider understanding for the students when they go to write a summary themselves.

Use Familiar Texts

One of the biggest mistakes I see teachers make, is them thinking they always have to use a brand new text.  The great thing about a strong mentor text, is that is can be used over and over again for a variety of reasons.  You can read aloud a story and analyze the story for supporting details and then the next week read it again and analyze it for genre.  It’s a great way to build upon your students’ schema that you’re building and it also saves time!

When you use familiar texts when teaching summarizing, it takes the pressure off of students of having to remember and comprehend the story.  When you use a brand new story, the students have to listen, understand the story, remember the story, decide between relevant and irrelevant information, and write the summary.  That’s a long process!  You need to remember – your objective is to teach them how to write summaries, not to comprehend the story.

So instead – use a familiar text!  Use a text you’ve already read and that’s fresh in your students’ minds!  You can still read it out loud again if you wish or you can decide to just chit-chat about the book before jumping into summarizing.  Need some new book titles to help teach summarizing?  I’ve compiled an awesome list for you to check out!

Important Words List

Another tip for you, is to have your students focus in on the important words from the story.  Again, this is a very simple strategy that you can do prior to having them write the summary to make sure they are ready.  How does it work?  Simple!  Have your students create a web (like when brainstorming) and in the middle, write the title of the story.  On the outside, have them write single words/short phrases that are vital to the story.  So for example, if I were doing this with Cinderella, I would write:  shoe, prince, step-sisters, fairy godmother, evil step-mother, mice, magic, clock, chores, etc.  Have them create a list and then that list gets to be used to create the summary.  If you find that they are creating too long of a list – give them a limit!  It’s always nice to throw in a challenge 😉

Somebody – Wanted – But – So – Then Strategy

SummarizingThis is one I know many of you already know about, but I’ve got a great twist for you!  This is a wonderful strategy that really helps to break down how to write a summary, but before you have them write a summary using the SWBST strategy – see if they can identify these parts inside of an already written summary!  If they can’t find them in a summary, how do you expect them to write a summary of their own using these pieces?  Makes sense right!?

Here’s how it works.  Simply write or find a summary of a text that the students are familiar with.  Have them read the summary and go through and label the different pieces.  Where do they see the ‘somebody’ in the summary?  How about the ‘wanted’?  And so on.  It really gives them a concrete understanding to the strategy and when they turn around to write their own summary, they understand each of the pieces a little better.

With so many twists and turns, it’s clear that summarizing is definitely a tricky skill to teach.  I hope you were able to find some new tips and tricks to help you along the way.  If you loved some of the activities suggested above, you might be interested in seeing the rest of my Summarizing Unit.  It has a full week of lesson plans, exit tickets, a weekly assessment, craft, center, graphic organizer, and MORE!  Definitely check it out to get some new ideas and activities to help you!

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I’m a wife, a mommy of 3, blogger, and a full time teacher author and presenter. I love to read, shop, and spend time with my family! My hands are always busy, but my heart is so full!

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