Summarizing is part of most state standards in upper elementary. But have you ever paused to ask yourself why teaching summary is so important?
Summarizing is such an important comprehension skill. When our students have the ability to summarize, they are able to retain the most important details and information from the texts they are reading.
We want our students to comprehend and understand the texts they are reading. Teaching summary is one way you can help students improve their comprehension.
Whether your students are reading a fictional story for enjoyment or reading an informational text for research purposes, if students can summarize, they will have the ability to remember and understand what it is they read.
An Important Reminder About Teaching Summary:
When we are teaching our students to summarize, we don’t want to focus too much on teaching them to apply a specific summarizing strategy or be able to summarize a specific text.
It’s important to remember that your state standard doesn’t state “Students need to summarize using the SWBST strategy.” or “Students need to summarize the story Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson.”
Your state standard says students need to be able to summarize a text.
We want to help students develop and internalize the habits and behaviors that will help them successfully summarize any text they are reading.
Four Tips for Teaching Summary
Teaching Tip #1 – Summaries should mirror the structure of the text.
This is something that I didn’t realize when I first started teaching, but once I made the connection, It made teaching summary a lot easier. Whether your students are reading fiction or non-fiction, their summary should mirror the structure of the text.
So, if your students are reading a nonfiction text that uses a compare and contrast text structure, then their summary should mirror that structure. In their summary, they should introduce the two topics in the text and then share similarities and differences the same way the author did.
If students are reading a fictional story that follows the traditional story mountain with rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution, then their summary should follow the same story arc.
When we teach students to write summaries that mirror the structure of the text, we are giving them tools to know how to organize their summaries.
Teaching Tips #2 – Avoid teaching summarizing as an isolated reading skill.
Summarizing requires A LOT of reading skills. In order for students to summarize, they need to be able to determine importance, ask and answer questions, and identify and understand the author’s purpose.
They also need to understand the structure of the text, and they need to be able to make generalizations and paraphrase what they are reading so they can synthesize all the details and craft a complete summary.
So often, we try to teach reading skills in isolation. “This week, we are going to focus on summarizing.”
But rather than just focusing on summarizing as an isolated objective, we need to help our students see how connected all of the reading strategies and skills are to each other.
Teaching Tip #3 – Scaffold your instruction… Don’t expect mastery after one lesson.
By now, you’re probably realizing how complex teaching summarizing is. This means we need to be patient with our students. I say this to teachers all the time, but you have until the end of the year for students to master your state reading standards.
Knowing we have the entire year means we shouldn’t expect mastery after our first mini-lesson on summary.
Summarizing is one of those skills that can be really helpful to break apart and provide scaffolded lessons. A few things you can do to scaffold your lessons on summarizing:
- Provide mini-lessons on some of the “pre-requisite” skills like main idea and details, determine importance, and identifying the structure of the text.
- When you are asking students to summarize a text, start with really short passages so students don’t have to spend so much energy figuring out what to include or exclude.
- Let students start by giving oral summaries vs. written summaries.
- Collaborate as a class to write summaries of shared texts before students have to summarize independently.
Teaching Tip #4 – Once students have been introduced to summarizing, give students REAL opportunities to practice it.
Sometimes it can be really hard to give students REAL and authentic opportunities to practice the reading skills we are teaching them, but the more chances they have to apply that skill in the real world, the more likely it will stick with them after they leave our classroom.
A few things you could do to give students REAL WORLD practice summarizing are:
- Have students write book reports or book reviews for the books they are reading.
- Have students share a book talk with their classmates.
- Use roles during your book club discussions and make “summarizer” a rotating role
These are just a few suggestions that will have your students practice summarizing that are a little more fun and exciting than just writing in their journal.
Put it Into Practice:
- Download my free Summarizing Nonfiction Checklist to help your students understand how to summarize nonfiction texts.
- List to Episode #52 of The Stellar Teacher Podcast to learn three strategies to help your students summarize nonfiction texts.
- Join us inside The Stellar Teacher Reading Membership where you will get access to a resource library filled with resources to help you teach summarizing and so many more standards.
Poem of the Week
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