Teaching Students How to Summarize

Teaching summarizing is no small undertaking. It’s one of the hardest strategies for students to grasp, and one of the hardest strategies for you to teach. Repeatedly model it and give your students ample time and opportunities to practice it. But it is such a valuable strategy and competency. Can you imagine your students succeeding in school without being able to break down content into manageable small succinct pieces?  Here are a few ideas; try one…try them all. This important strategy is truly about equipping your students to be lifelong learners.

After students have used selective underlining on a text, have them turn the sheet over or close the handout packet and attempt to create a summary paragraph of what they can remember of the key ideas in the piece. They should only look back at their underlining when they reach a point of being stumped. They can go back and forth between writing the summary and checking their underlining several times until they have the important ideas in the single paragraph.

Have students write successively shorter summaries, constantly refining, and reducing their written piece until only the most essential and relevant information remains. They can start off with half a page; then try to get it down to two paragraphs; then one paragraph; then two or three sentences; and ultimately a single sentence or one word! Give students opportunities to summarize throughout or at the end of a lesson. Teach students to go with the question markers: key words/phrases for:  Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How.

Take articles from the newspaper, and cut off their headlines. Have students practice writing headlines for (or matching the severed headlines to) the “headless” stories.

Sum It Up:  Students imagine they are placing a classified ad or sending a telegram, where every word used costs them money. Tell them each word costs 10 cents, and then tell them they can spend “so much.” For instance, if you say they have $2.00 to spend, then that means they write a summary that has no more than 20 words. You can adjust the amount they spend, and therefore the length of the summary, according to the text they are summarizing. Consider setting this up as a learning station, with articles in a folder that they can practice on whenever they finish their work early or have time when other students are still working.

One Technique to Teach Summarizing

  • Ask students to highlight the words or phrases they need to answer the question. If a sentence does not contain essential information, do not highlight.
  • Move to the next sentence and repeat the process.
  • Read the first sentence and ask, “Does this sentence help us answer our question?”
  • Write it on a chart paper.
  • Generate a question or turn a subheading into a question.
  • Stop at a reasonable chunk.
  • Read the text aloud.
  • they have a copy to follow) or get them to tell you verbally.
  • Imagine that each word costs $100 so they must be careful not to choose too many.
  • Negotiate the words to be highlighted or added to the chart with the teacher or members of your group.
  • Reread only the highlighted part to see if they understand the information.
  • If too little information has been selected, go back to highlight additional, essential information.
  • Continue until you reach the end of a section.
  • Reread the question and do a quick reread of highlighted words and phrases to see if the question has been answered.  Then gradually release responsibility for this process for paired work and independent practice.

I am participating in #SOL 17. slice-of-life2

10 thoughts on “Teaching Students How to Summarize

  1. Thanks, Clare. Remind me after March Slice is over to share an entire packet on summarization with you. I am leaving for Shippensburg with Diane – presenting tomorrow. Having MAJOR computer problems and have to take it to Staples and leave with the Geek squad. What a mess!


  2. These are great strategies, Lynne. Summarizing was indeed a difficult concept for my sixth grade students to grasp. They wanted to include everything, not just the important information. Thanks for theses tips.

    Liked by 1 person

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