Teaching Kids How to Summarize

What Is Summarizing?   Summarizing is how we take larger selections of text and reduce them to their bare essentials: the gist, the key ideas, the main points that are worth noting and remembering. Webster’s Dictionary calls a summary the “general idea in brief form”; it’s the distillation, condensation, or reduction of a larger work into its primary notions.

What Are We Doing When We Summarize?   We strip away the extra verbiage and extraneous examples. We focus on the heart of the matter. We try to find the key words and phrases that, when uttered later, still manage to capture the gist of what we’ve read. We are trying to capture the main ideas and the crucial details necessary for supporting them.

When You Ask Your Students to Summarize, What Usually Happens?

  • they write down everything
  • they write down next to nothing
  • they give me complete sentences
  • they write way too much
  • they don’t write enough
  • they copy word for word

What Did You Want Them To Do?

  • pull out main ideas
  • focus on key details
  • use key words and phrases
  • break down the larger ideas
  • write only enough to convey the gist
  • take succinct but complete notes

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Imagining Possibilities for a Literature Notebook

Lines that might become poems

Powerful leads

Powerful endings


Titles of favorite reads

Quotes from authors about reading & writing



Discussions with self

Authors to study

Elements of story: characters, setting, problem, conflict, plot, climax, resolution, theme

Interesting words



Notes from mini-lessons



Letters to a peer partner about a poem, story, chapter, or book


Answers to questions


Examples of literary devices and imagery from mentor texts: mood, symbolism, foreshadowing, irony, etc.

Quotations from people, student writing

Powerful sentences lifted from a text to imitate