Middle school teachers, tutors and parents can help students learn to write summaries of books, poems or articles to increase reading comprehension and improve retention. Summaries also give students an opportunity to practice and hone their formal writing skills. Instructions should focus on ways to condense material into manageable pieces, identify the main concepts and support them with evidence from the text.
Conduct Practice Exercises
Provide some practice exercises, such as reading a newspaper article or a children's picture book aloud, and ask your students to summarize what you just read in one or two sentences. Encourage your students to maintain a formal style, similar to a book report, and avoid discussing their personal feelings in their summaries. A middle-school summary is informative, not analytic, in nature.
Create a Mind Map
Ask your students to create a graphic organizer, such as a mind map, to help them sort concepts from the story into categories. Instruct them to put the title of the book in a central circle on a piece of paper or use your white board if you're mapping as a class. Branch off from the central circle with broad categories and list them in separate circles, such as the setting, characters, plot and themes. Have your students add details to the categories, using lines or small bubbles for each piece of information. For example, if your students are summarizing "The Maze Runner," by James Dashner, they should have a "setting" bubble with details, such as "post-apocalyptic future," "Glade -- large meadow surrounded by walls," "perfect weather" and "farming community" around it. A mind map serves as a graphical outline for the summary.
Introduce Major Concepts
Instruct your class -- or individual children if you're working one-on-one -- to start their summaries with a clear introduction. Middle school students should be able to articulate what their summary will cover and create purposeful topic sentences. For example, a summary of "The Hunger Games," by Suzanne Collins, might start with, "Brave, sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen volunteers to play the life-and-death strategy game, known as the Hunger Games, in place of her younger sister. The story takes place in the future where communities are divided into districts according to their economic status. Competitors might fight to the death."
Choose Words Wisely
Help your children develop the body of their summaries by answering who, what, when, where, why and how. Instruct them to use the main categories from their mind maps to answer the questions -- the goal is to help them synthesize the most important details. Pretend that every word in their summaries costs money -- like a telegram or a classified ad in a newspaper. Encourage them to choose their words wisely to keep the price down -- you might tell them that each word costs 10 cents and they can only spend a maximum of $2. This activity encourages middle schoolers to condense the material, avoid wordiness and focus on key concepts.
Include a Brief Conclusion
Advise students to include a brief conclusion that helps readers understand the purpose behind the book or article. For example, a conclusion to a summary on "The Diary of a Young Girl," by Anne Frank, might say, "Anne's diary reveals much about the hunger, fear and boredom she faced as she secretly hid from the Gestapo for two years."
- Common Core State Standards Initiative: English Language Arts Standards -- Writing -- Grade 6
- University of Colorado: Summary Street
- Reading Quest: Strategies for Reading Comprehension -- Summarizing
- ReadWriteThink: Guided Comprehension -- Summarizing Using the QuIP Strategy
- The Maze Runner; James Dashner
- The Hunger Games; Suzanne Collins
- The Diary of a Young Girl; Anne Frank
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