Summary writing is an important skill for students to develop. It refers to the practice of reducing a large selection of text into the essential information it conveys. Teaching summary involves teaching young students, such as third graders, to read, retain and analyze a passage for its main idea and points. Help your students learn the difference between summary, which will help them in education and business, and mere repetition. While it may take your students a while to grasp the sometimes challenging notion of summary, providing guidance and opportunities to practice will help them get it.

Step 1

Give students something to read.
Give students something to read.

Give students a few paragraphs of text to read. Ask them to underline or highlight the key ideas or main vocabulary words used by the author in the selection. Teach students to underline the author’s “who, what, where, when, why and how.” Instruct them to turn their sheets over and describe what the author had to say about the words or phrases they highlighted or underlined.

Step 2

Allow students to write up half page summaries.
Allow students to write up half page summaries.

Allow students to write up to half-page summaries if they are just learning the concept. Ask them to shorten their summaries again to reduce what they have written to two paragraphs, then again down to one paragraph. Continue to ask the students to reduce their summaries until they can convey the author’s meaning from the selection in one or at most, two sentences.

Step 3

Help students practice summary by cutting out new headlines.
Help students practice summary by cutting out new headlines.

Help students practice summary by cutting headlines out of newspapers and passing out a headline-less article to each student. Ask students to write headlines for the articles that summarize their content, conveying the most important point of the article.

Step 4

Use an addition metaphor to help students learn summary.
Use an addition metaphor to help students learn summary.

Try using an addition metaphor to help students learn summary. Assign a monetary value, such as 5 cents, to each word and tell students they can only spend a certain amount of money, such as $1, to write their summaries. Set up a learning station with a folder containing articles and “spending limits” that students can use to practice summarizing when they finish their work early and are looking for something to do.