Strategies for Reading Comprehension
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 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
How Can I Teach My Students to Summarize?
Please be warned: 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. You have to 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? We ask students to summarize all the time, but we're terrible about teaching them good ways to do this!
Here are a few ideas; try one...try them all. But keep plugging away at summarizing. This strategy is truly about equipping your students to be lifelong learners.
- After students have used selective underlining on a selection, 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 captured the important ideas in the article 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.
- Teach students to go with the newspaper mantra: have them use the key words or phrases to identify only 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: Pat Widdowson of Surry County Schools in North Carolina shared this very cool strategy with me. How's it work? You have 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 have to write a summary that has no more than 20 words. You can adjust the amount they have to 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.
Download and Print:
En Espanol (with thanks to Martha L. Andrade):
|This site was created
and is maintained by
This page was last updated on Sunday, 26-Aug-2012 04:42:03 EDT.
||URL for this page: http://www.readingquest.org/strat/summarize.html.
© 1998-present by Raymond C. Jones, PhD