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Teaching Summarizing So Students Actually Understand
Teaching summarizing seems like it should be easy. When 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade students summarize, they don’t have to come up with any of their own ideas – all they have to do is briefly tell the most important parts of a book or reading passage that they read.
Sounds pretty easy...but it’s not.
Teachers have all sorts of cute and colorful ideas to teach summarizing strategies. If you search “summarizing” on Pinterest, you’ll see a huge variety of activities and ideas for summarizing fiction and nonfiction text.
There are anchor charts, graphic organizers, the “Somebody Wanted But So Then” method, the SAAC method, the 5 fingered retell, summarizing sentence starters, and more.
With all of these strategies, you would think our upper elementary students would be better at writing summaries. However, many of these strategies and techniques do not address the root of why students struggle with summarizing.
Why Students Struggle With Summarizing Fiction and Nonfiction Texts
Text to text/self/world connections are not included in a good summary.
Usually, we want students to incorporate what they already know about a topic. We even take time in class to activate prior knowledge, knowing that students will better understand what they have read if they can relate to it. We want them to make meaningful connections to the text.
But when summarizing, students aren’t supposed to incorporate any additional information – only the information that the author chose to include.
Including and Justifying Your Own Opinion is NOT Included in a Good Summary
Usually, we encourage students to think for themselves. We want students to share their opinions, and to justify that opinion. We want students to learn how to disagree with an author and learn that authors aren't always right.
But when summarizing, students aren’t supposed to have their own opinion – they are simply supposed to explain what the author says and thinks.
A Lot of Interesting Details Are NOT Included in a Good Summary
Usually, we want students to share as many details as possible. How many times have you told a student that they need to add more details, write more, or make it longer? The more details students include, the better – except for in summarizing.
But when summarizing, students are supposed to only include the most important information. Which means students have to have a firm handle on how to find the main idea. No wonder students struggle with summarizing text!
What Makes a Good Summary
There are a lot of different things that make up a good summary - some things that should be included in a summary, and some things that should not be included. I've found that 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade students struggle most with these aspects of summarizing fiction and informational texts:
- Summaries should only include information from the passage
- Summaries should not include your opinion
- Summaries should only include the most important information
- Summaries are not copied from the passage
Also, fiction summaries generally should include the problem and solution of a text.
Practicing each of these aspects of summarizing in isolation as mini lessons can help students become better summarizers. However, just telling upper elementary students what makes up a good summary is not enough.
How to Teach Summarizing - An Important Activity Idea
Since summarizing goes against what students will naturally want to do, we can’t just tell students what makes a good summary and expect that to be enough. Students don’t just need to see examples of good summaries - they also need to see examples of BAD summaries and be able to understand what makes it “bad.”
Before your summarizing lesson, write several different summaries of a reading passage. Make a couple of these summaries deliberately BAD – include a summary that has all sorts of unimportant information, and another summary that includes opinions that aren’t from the text. Make sure you also have one “good” summary.
After reading the passage with your class (or in a small group setting), show students the different summaries. Have the students discuss in small groups or partners which summary is best, and what is wrong with the other summaries. Repeat this activity several times with different reading passages.
Incorporating “bad summaries” into your summary lessons will keep your students from making those same mistakes when they begin writing summaries. Although writing out extra summaries takes extra prep time, it will keep you from having so many frustrated and confused students later in the school year.
A No Prep Option for Your Summarizing Lesson Plans
If you don’t have the extra time to prepare both “good” and “bad” summaries (and what teacher DOES have extra time?), then you might like a no prep option. I have summarizing resources for both fiction and nonfiction texts.
These resources provide reading passages with plenty of “bad” summaries and “good” summaries to help your students develop a better understanding of summary writing. The resources are also hands on, with several cut and paste activities and a scavenger hunt.
Or, you can find both the Summarizing Fiction and Summarizing Nonfiction resources at my TPT store.
Want Some Free, No Prep Main Idea Activities?
Awesome hands-on activity. Helps make this concept more concrete for students!
Thank you! I am a newer teacher and this was very insightful.
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summarizing activities for 5th grade
Resource types, all resource types, summarizing activities for 5th grade.
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4th & 5th Grade Summarizing Activities Somebody, Wanted, But, So
5th Grade STAAR Reading Interactive Notebook! Passages, Activities & More!
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Summarizing Activity 5th 6th Grade
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Reading Comprehension | 5th Grade Theme Summary Activities | Guided Reading
Summarizing Activities for 5th Grade
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Main Idea Task Cards for 3rd - 5th Grades - Main Idea Activity Reading Center
Summarizing Nonfiction Texts with Google Slides™ Summary Activities
Summary writing 3rd, 4th, 5th grade story retell sequencing worksheet trifold
Summarizing Fiction Stories with Google Slides™ Summary Activities
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Plot Diagram Template and Summary Writing GOOGLE SLIDES Plot Elements Passages
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Theme Activity : Finding the Theme 3rd 4th 5th Grades
QR Activity : THEME task card game (3rd, 4th, 5th grades )
Summarizing Theme in Poetry
5th Grade Reading Test-Prep, Nonfiction Interactive Notebook! Great Practice!
Book Club Resources and Activities
Interactive Read Aloud Lesson Plans & Activities - Reading Comprehension Bundle
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PEARL HARBOR Reading Activity and Worksheet Packet! (4th, 5th ,6th) NO PREP!
Summarizing Nonfiction Text Worksheets Graphic Organizers Practice Activities
Winter Activities | Igloo Story Plot Map & Idioms | Story Elements | January
RI.5.2 Fifth Grade Common Core Worksheets, Activity , and Poster
Summary Hands-On Activities Grade 5
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Can you summarize?
Sum·ma·rize ˈsəməˌrīz/ verb give a brief statement of the main points of (something). "these results can be summarized in the following table" synonyms: sum up, abridge , condense , encapsulate , outline , give an outline of, put in a nutshell, recapitulate , give/make a summary of, give a synopsis of, give the gist of, recap "he summarized these ideas in a single phrase", summarizing dont's *write down everything *write nothing *writing too much *not writing enough what should you do when you summarize *pull out the main ideas *focus on the key details *use key words and phrases *break down the larger ideas *write only enough to convey the gist *include the main idea and key details about the main character(s) , setting , and the problem (and how it was resolved ).
Watch this opening clip of "Finding Nemo" and summarize the movie in a paragraph.
How to Write a Book Summary for 5th Graders
Writing a book summary requires fifth-grade students to pay attention to the five elements of literature: plot, setting, characters, point of view, and theme. By doing so, students discuss everything encompassed within a novel and show how each element connects to the others. Unlike a book report, a book summary doesn't include the student's personal opinions of the book. A summary is simply that -- an objective piece that summarizes the key elements of a story.
Explore this article
- Review the Plot
- Determine the Setting
- Consider Characters and Point of View
- Discuss Theme
1 Review the Plot
Help fifth-graders define key plot moments by brainstorming the major events within a story and noting how the author crafts the story around a central conflict. The plot of Lois Lowry's "Number the Stars," for example, can be summarized broadly and simply as, "A Jewish family in Europe struggles to survive during World War II." However, the summary should include a brief overview of the conflict the plot develops.
2 Determine the Setting
The time and place in which a story's events occur is often essential to understanding the meanings of a book. In children's novels where this information isn't explicit, help students analyze context clues to determine the setting. For example, the events in "Maniac Magee," by Jerry Spinelli, take place in a town where use of drinking fountains and public restrooms is racially segregated. Exploring this background with your students through illustrated discussions can help them better summarize the book, as well as deepen their understanding of racism in the book and American culture.
3 Consider Characters and Point of View
The fifth-grade reader needs to consider who is telling the story to make a complete summary -- and for that summary to lead to an enhanced understanding of literary elements appropriate to this grade. In Tolkien's "The Hobbit," for example, the story is told through an all-knowing third-person perspective. Discuss the student's experience of the story through the point of view presented before providing specific guidance for summarizing the book's characters. Help students define and identify the main character and, per common core standards for the grade level, describe how this character interacts with other key characters in the story.
4 Discuss Theme
The theme of a novel is generally what authors want their audience to "take away" from a reading of their work. Here the previous work done in creating the summary can provide a strong foundation for determining the theme -- another key language arts common core standard for fifth grade. Help students look at the major plot points, setting and conflicts between characters for what may be a clear, or perhaps more hidden, message. Encourage fifth-graders to sum up that message in a word or short phrase before elaborating on the book's theme in the summary.
- 1 Goodreads: Popular Fifth-Grade Reading List Books
- 2 Common Core English Language Arts Standards: Reading: Literature, Grade 5
About the Author
Matt Duczeminski is a before- and after-school tutor and supervisor for the CLASP program in the Cheltenham School District. A graduate of SUNY New Paltz's Master of Science in education (Literacy, B-6), Duczeminski has worked in a variety of suburban areas as a teacher, tutor and recreational leader for the past eight years.
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