LearningTip #33:
Summarizing Strategies Help Students Monitor Understanding,
Clarify Thinking, and Strengthen Learning

By Joyce Melton Pagés, Ed.D.
Middle School Instructional Specialist, President of KidBibs

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My First Dictionary
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The Kingfisher Children's Encyclopedia

A summary.  When we think of a summary, we typically think of the end of something: the end of a textbook chapter, the end of a year, etc.  In fact, a summary is a wrap-up--a general picture of the information--much like TV networks produce at the end of the year.  In textbooks, summaries provide a quick overview of a subject without having the reader wade through a lot of facts and details.  Summaries help readers and writers boil information down to its most basic elements.  Encyclopedias, almanacs, and digests provide good examples of summaries.

Effective summary reading and writing are important study strategies.  Yet, summarizing is often quite difficult for children.   It requires them to categorize details, eliminate insignificant information, generalize information, and use clear, concise language to communicate the essence of the information.  With practice, students can use summarizing to support their reading and learning.  The next two strategies can be used to help young readers comprehend informational writing.

1.   Since textbook chapter summaries provide a "big picture" of the chapter, it is often useful for a student to read the chapter summary first.   This establishes the mental framework to support effective learning of the details when the student reads; the good reader can then read the chapter and "plug" the details into the "big picture." 

2.  Summarizing while reading can also help students monitor their understanding of the information they've read.  They can read a few paragraphs and put the information they've read in their own words.  They can write this summary down or share it orally with a partner.  By putting the information in their own words, learners understand what they know and what they don't know.  Then they can reread the information that they did not recall.  This puts the reader in charge of their own learning. 

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Summary writing can help children clarify their thinking about content and support their reading of information.  In writing a summary, the student should:

1.  Read the material (or engage in the learning) with the intent of writing a summary.  S/he should attend to the main ideas and notice how the writing is organized--time order or some other strategy.  Headings, subheadings, and topic sentences can help the student recognize the main ideas and may help him/her recognize how the selection is organized

2.  Put his/her ideas in their own words as they read.  Maybe every paragraph or two, s/he should retell to him/herself the information that s/he just read. 

3.  Collapse examples and details into categories.  Use clear, concise, general statements to describe these grouped ideas or categories together.

4.  Use the same organizational strategy as the original author.  In other words, if the original information is presented in chronological order, the student should use time order to summarize the information. 

5.  Should remember that a good summary isn't a string of facts; it is a miniature version of the original text.  S/he should include no unnecessary details by deleting trivial and repetitious information. 

6.  Integrate the information into a coherent piece of writing.  

7.  Polish the summary.  Rethinking and revising a summary helps students get a firmer grasp the main points of the material.

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Both parents and teachers can help students learn how to summarize.

Parenting
Parent Strategies
Teaching
Teacher Strategies
Homeschooling
Homeschooling Strategies

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Parenting
Parent Strategies

1.  Implement retellings.  After your child has read something, watched a video, etc.  ask him/her to put what s/he recalls in his/her own words.  Unlike specific questions, retelling requires the learner to think about all of the information, mentally organize it, and put it in his/her own words.   This requires a lot more thinking than simply answering a question with a few words.

2.  Let your child help you with a family photo album or scrapbook.   Use pictures, postcards, etc. to document family vacations, events, etc.  Have the child generate a single statement that summarizes the trip, activity, experience, etc. 

3.  Use a variety of materials--TV programs, comic strips, newspaper articles, etc. to give your child practice with summarizing.  Read the selection together and have him/her put it in his/her own words. 

4.  Read informational text to your child (in addition to the stories that you read).  Stop occasionally and have your child put the information in his/her own words.  Younger children can dictate the summary for you to write down in your best manuscript printing.  Older students can write their own informal summaries down.

5.  Help your 9-12 year-old child create a record of the year.  Make a scrapbook of key news events that occur during the year.  Have your child select newspaper articles, magazines, photographs, etc. that tell about news events.  Have him/her mount the article and summary on a scrapbook page.  Allow him/her to decorate the page if s/he wishes.  

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Teaching
Teacher Strategies

1.  Read other people's summaries.   After your students have read a chapter/selection, have them read the summary.   Transparencies of the selection and summary can be used to help the students identify how the author has written general statements in the summary to describe details in the selection.  With a transparency pen, underline the details in the selection that reflect the general statement in the summary.  The general statement can be written in the margin (on the transparency) with an arrow drawn to it from the underlined details in the selection.

2.   Implement retellings.  After the students have read something, watched a video, etc.  ask them to put what they recall in their own words.  Unlike specific questions, retelling requires the learner to think about all of the information, mentally organize it, and put it in their own words.   This requires a lot more thinking that simply answering a question with a few words.

3.  Identify a portion of text (from a textbook or tradebook) which has a summary.  Have your students read the selection without reading the summary.  Then write a group summary for the selection.  On transparencies, compare the class summary to actual summary from the textbook or tradebook.  You might want to underline ideas that they have in one color of marker and ideas that they do not have in common in another color of marker.  Have the students discuss why they chose to include information that the author did not include.   Have them also discuss why the author chose to include information that they had not included.  Also, have the students identify techniques and strategies that the author used to summarize the information concisely.

4.  Implement GIST.  Explain that the "gist" of something is the main idea.  Help them understand that they do not need to remember all of the details in order to get the gist of the material.  Draw twenty word-size blanks on the chalkboard or transparency and explain that, after reading, they will try to write a sentence (or two) of no more than twenty words that captures the gist of the selection.  The students read a short section--no more than three paragraphs--then work with the teacher as a class to record the gist of what they've read.  Students take turns telling the teacher part of what to write.   In no case will the teacher write a twenty-first word.  Students must revise their statement until it describes the essence of the article in twenty blanks or fewer.

5.  Implement Sustained Summary Writing (SSW).  This strategy is similar to GIST, but students read a longer passage and are given a limited time (three to five minutes) to write the most important information they remember.  When the time is up, students share their summaries as the teacher records the major ideas on the board.  These ideas are then included in a group summary dictated by the class and written by the teacher.

6.  Write a summary after implementing a KWL.  This strategy is described on LearningTip #21.  Students can use the information in the "L" column and the confirmed ideas in the "K" column to generate a summary of the selection.

7.  Help students learn to polish their summaries by having them examine three summaries:  one good summary that contains all the main points and flows smoothly, one that is okay (containing most of the information but is somewhat stilted in its writing), and one that is poorly written in content and form.  Let the class rate and discuss the three summaries.

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Homeschooling
Homeschooling Strategies

1.  Implement retellings.  After the child has read something, watched a video, etc.  ask him/her to put what s/he recalls in his/her own words.  Unlike specific questions, retelling requires the child to think about all of the information, mentally organize it, and put it in his/her own words.   This requires a lot more thinking than simply answering a question with a few words.

2.  Let your child help you with the family photo album or scrapbook.  Use pictures, postcards, etc. to document family vacations.  Have the child generate a single statement that summarizes the trip, activity, experience, etc. 

3.  Use a variety of materials--TV programs, comic strips, newspaper articles, etc. to give your child practice with summarizing.  Read the selection together and have him/her put it in his/her own words. 

4.  Read informational text to your child (in addition to the stories that you read).  Stop occasionally and have your child put the information in his/her own words.  Younger children can dictate the summary for you to write down in your best manuscript printing.  Older children can write their own informal summaries down.

5.  Help your 9-12 year-old child create a record of the year.  Make a scrapbook of key news events that occur during the year.  Have your child select newspaper articles, magazines, photographs, etc. that tell about news events.  Have him/her mount the article and summary on a scrapbook page.  Allow him/her to decorate the page if s/he wishes.  

6.  Read other people's summaries.   After your child has read a chapter/selection, have him/her read the summary.   Transparencies of the selection and summary can be used to help the students identify how the author has written general statements in the summary to describe details in the selection.  With a marker, underline the details in the selection that reflect the general statement in the summary.  The general statement can be written in the margin with an arrow drawn to it from the underlined details in the selection.

7.  Identify a portion of text (from a textbook or tradebook) which has a summary.  Have your child read the selection without reading the summary.  Then write a summary for the selection together.  Compare your summary to actual summary from the textbook or tradebook.  You might want to underline ideas that they both have in one color of marker and ideas that they do not have in common in another color of marker.  Have your child  discuss why s/he chose to include information that the author did not include.   Have him/her also discuss why the author chose to include information that s/he  had not included.  Also, have your child  identify techniques and strategies that the author used to summarize the information concisely.

8.  Implement GIST.  Explain that the "gist" of something is the main idea.  Help your child understand that s/he does not need to remember all of the details in order to get the gist of the material.   Draw twenty word-size blanks and explain that, after reading, they will try to write a sentence (or two) of no more than twenty words that captures the gist of the selection.  The child reads a short section--no more than three paragraphs--then work with the parent to record the gist of what they've read.  The child  tells you what to write.   In no case will you write a twenty-first word.  The child  must revise his/her statement until it describes the essence of the article in twenty blanks or fewer.

9.  Implement Sustained Summary Writing (SSW).  This strategy is similar to GIST, but the child reads a longer passage and is given a limited time (three to five minutes) to write the most important information they remember.  When the time is up, the child shares his/her list/facts as you record the major ideas.  These ideas are then used to produce a summary together.

10.  Write a summary after implementing a KWL.  This strategy is described in LearningTip #21.  Students can use the information in the "L" column and the confirmed ideas in the "K" column to generate a summary of the selection.

11.  Help students learn how to polish their summaries by having them examine three summaries:  one good summary that contains all the main points and flows smoothly, one that is okay (containing most of the information but is somewhat stilted in its writing), and one that is poorly written in content and form.  Let your child  rate and discuss the three summaries.


In summary, effective utilization of summaries is important for young readers and writers.  A wide variety of strategies can be used in a number of different settings to help children use summarizing to monitor their understanding, clarify their thinking, and strengthen their learning.

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