Class Notes EDIS 771: Reading in Content Areas
Spring 1999
Thomas H. Estes, Instructor
University of Virginia

Strategies for Reading to Learn

Group Summaries



Summarizing is a basic but difficult comprehension skill to develop. Group summaries offer individuals the support of ideas from others and allow each student to see how a summary is organized and takes concrete shape.

The simplest group summary is a sheet of paper or chalkboard divided into sections. How many sections depends on what kind of information the students decide the text will contain. This they can usually determine by examining the subheadings in the text. A chapter on the topic of weather, for example, might be organized around the seasons of the year or forms of weather-- wind, precipitation, changes in weather conditions, etc. How the text is organized will determine the form of the summary. The form of the summary should, therefore, reflect the organization of the text-- its subheadings and overall structure.


Before students begin reading a selection, help them to preview the text to see how the information is organized. Designate and label a section of the chalkboard for each major heading of the text they are going to read. You may wish to begin the "summary" by asking students to share what they already know about the topic in the terms the text will use. These ideas may later be confirmed, altered, or discarded, based on what is included in the text itself.

After the reading-- perhaps taking it one section at a time-- students can suggest what information they think could go in each section of the summary. Help the students to put the information into their own words and use complete sentences where possible. These habits will be very useful later when summarizing becomes a tool for understanding and remembering difficult text.

Once the entire text is read and all summarizing ideas have been aired, the next step is to construct a class summary of what the students have read. The summary may be made up of a series of brief paragraphs, each centered on one of the sections of text. Alternately, the summary may be a series of sentences about the various ideas encountered in the text.

Do not take for granted how difficult good summaries are to construct. To learn this important skill, students may need to see the process modeled repeatedly and need a lot of guided practice and feedback.

Vacca & Vacca provide some guidelines for writing summaries that can be adapted for students of various ages, and used by individuals or groups. This is what they say:

1. Include no unnecessary detail. In preparing a summary, delete trivial and repetitious information from the text passage.

2. Collapse lists. When a text passage includes examples, details, actions, or traits, reduce these into broader categories of information, using a key word or phrase to name the concept they exemplify.

3. Use a topic sentence. Expository text sometimes contains explicit statements of the major thesis and precise topic sentences. However, if the text implies its thesis and topics, create explicit statements of them for your summary.

4. Integrate information. Combine the thesis statements, topic sentences, and key words or phrases that you created for your summary into a coherent piece of writing. Your summary should be intelligible to someone who has not read the original text.

5. Polish the summary. Revise the draft of your summary into an organized, natural-sounding piece of writing. As you go through the process of rethinking to accomplish this, you will gain a firmer grasp of the main points of the material and state them with the clarity that characterizes fine writing.



Olson, M. W. & Gee, T. C. (1991). Content reading instruction in the primary grades: Perceptions and Strategies. Reading Teacher, 45, 298-307.

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