What Makes a Good Summary?

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Identify the main idea and important details in order to write a summary.

Big Idea

Use an interest-generating video to get students thinking about what makes a good summary.


20 minutes

Liven up ELA classes by taking advantage of the topics being studied in other content areas. You will generate lots of interest, deepen student understanding and gain the admiration of your peers! In this case, the lesson links with the study of artifacts and fossils in social studies class, but it is easily adaptable to other topics. The first step is to find an interesting video, such as "Bodies" Fill Underwater Sculpture Park" from the National Geographic website. At only 3:30 minutes, the video is long enough to fully describe the park and short enough for the students to retain the information. As they watch the video the students prepare to answer a set of underwater statue video questions. Using video to introduce summarizing works well because it removes text and allows the students to first focus on the skill. Of course, choosing a high interest video is key, especially that the students have a strong connection to. There is a really interesting story behind this choice of topic and these materials. Find out how it came about teachable moment video.

Guided Practice

20 minutes

After the video, the students can not contain their enthusiasm and everyone joins in the discussion that followed – even the typically reluctant ones. They quickly identify the answers to the questions, even 6 – the one content specific question- does not stump anyone. Since these questions get to the main ideas of the video, we compare them to the short article by Fritz Faerber that accompanies the video and determine if it accurately captures the content of the video, which the students agree it does. That sets students up for a discussion about summary writing. It also addresses the Common Core State Standards shift to present information to students in a variety of formats. To continue on the topic, the students begin the note taking process by creating a new electronic document or turning to a new page in their ELA journals and titling it “What is a summary and what does it take to write a good summary?” What we come up with appears here.




Wrap Up

10 minutes

To wrap up the lesson, students discuss in their small groups how this list of summarizing dos & don'ts might be useful. They determine that it provides a resource to refer to during the writing process and can be used as a checklist after writing a summary to make sure you stayed on track. In future lessons in this unit, we will spend a great deal of time reading and writing lessons. This will also be a skill put to use in other units in ELA class as well as in other content areas.