How to Teach Summarizing The Easy Way

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Ask any kiddo you know to give you a little bit of quick summarizing on a book they’re reading, and you’ll typically get one of two distinct reactions.

  1. The “deer in the headlights” look, which is commonly followed by the question, “What?”
  2. The “twinkle in the eye” enthusiastic recap, which is an extremely animated retelling of the ENTIRE book.

You’re probably thinking, “What did I ask that was so difficult?” You were looking for an abbreviated version of the text, but you got two responses clearly lacking in that department.

Why? Most likely, it’s because these kiddos have briefly been taught what it means to summarize, but haven’t practiced it enough to master it.

So, I’m going to give you all the information you need to understand what summarizing is and the best ways to go about teaching summarizing to your kids. Then, I have three, tried and true, activities that will help them practice this newly acquired skill to the point of mastery!

Teaching Summarizing

How do I teaching Summarizing?

Summarizing can seem relatively unimportant, independently, but is essential to reading comprehension. The ability to take a large body of text, and break it down into its most essential parts by focusing on the important pieces and discarding irrelevant information is crucial to understanding.

To summarize, it means keeping the “meat” of the text. Unfortunately, if this skill isn’t explicitly taught and consistently reviewed, mastery will never be achieved.

As you begin teaching summarizing, it helps to start with fiction texts because they are much easier to summarize. (Summarizing fact-based or non-fiction text is much more complex, and therefore, is only relevant for older kiddos or very advanced younger learners.)

Take the time necessary to thoroughly explain what it means to summarize, and only use fiction texts until you’re completely confident your kiddos have mastered the skill. Helping them understand the meaning of summarizing and why you are teaching summarizing to them will encourage them to participate whole-heartedly in these activities.

3 Activities to Teach Summarizing

Comic Strips

Effectively teaching summarizing

This activity can be used with kiddos of any age! Creating comic strips is an amazing way to help kiddos become very focused in their retelling of a text.

On a basic level, they need to retell a short story in three parts: beginning, middle, and ending (BME). On a more experienced level, they can take a chapter or an entire book, and condense it into the same three parts. The level of difficulty is increased simply by the length and complexity of the text.

When I taught 3rd grade, I used the story I Wanna Iguana written by Karen Kaufman Orloff and illustrated by David Catrow to teach BME. I read the story aloud to my class, and then we spent some time discussing the illustrations and how they added to the story.

Once I knew they understood the task, they created their own comic strips to retell the story in pictures.

To create the comic strips, I cut printer paper in half long-ways. Then, I folded it into 3 sections. The kids drew lines over the folds to help them see where each section should be.

However, because I know that we are all limited on time, I have made a FREE printable comic strip template for you to use with this activity!

For older kiddos, you can simply adapt the activity to include a written portion at the bottom of the illustrations. If you want to make it more like a true comic strip, require a dialogue component.

Regardless of your requirements, your kiddos will enjoy this activity while learning an integral part of reading comprehension.

Story Rollercoaster

How do you summarize a text?

I credit this amazing idea to Amanda Nickerson of One Extra Degree. I adapted her original idea to fit more with what I needed for my kiddos. When you ride the “story rollercoaster,” you start at the bottom of the hill with your characters and your setting.

Next, as you move up the hill, you discuss the beginning of the story. Then, you get to the pinnacle of the hill and discuss the climax of the story. Finally, you go down the hill quickly, and talk about the resolution.

This activity is such an engaging way to involve movement in your lesson. I explained and modeled how to ride the roller coaster. We started with our arms down and together in front as we discussed our characters and setting.

Next, we began moving our hands up a bit (about chest high), and examined the beginning events of the story. Then, we moved our hands up as high as we could reach (on my tiptoes), and reviewed the climax. Finally, we would bring our hands and arms down quickly as we discussed the resolution.

If this is too in-depth for your kiddos, simply review beginning, middle, and end. Then, take a ride on “the story rollercoaster.” Your kids will love the interactive component…I promise!

Somebody, Wanted, But, So

I’ve seen this activity effectively used by several teachers, including myself! While the title seems a bit strange, the words “somebody, wanted, but, so” are keywords.

“Somebody” refers to the main character, and the word “wanted” is what the main character wanted to do. “But” is the keyword for the obstacles the main character faces or the conflict. The last word, “so” is simply the resolution of the story.

Here’s an example of this activity featuring the story, I Wanna Iguana. 

Alex wanted an iguana, but his mom wasn’t convinced. So, after writing her letters explaining why he would be an excellent owner, his mom let him have the iguana.

In this example, the entire story was condensed into two sentences, and includes each of the keywords. My kiddos always enjoyed this activity because it gave them a framework for creating their summary. It also helped them achieve success independently.

Each of these activities will help you as you’re teaching summarizing…if you use them consistently. You can implement these independently or in conjunction with one another. But, remember you need to let your kiddos practice with fiction and non-fiction texts.

Over time, you will find that you can ask your kiddos to summarize their current reading selections, and they will have a new reaction. They will be able to provide you with a succinct version of the text; and isn’t that the goal?