Summary Writing: Earning a Top Grade

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Plan and write a well organized summary of a nonfiction article.

Big Idea

Understanding the grading criteria and submitting a polished final copy paves the way to success!

Activator: Identifying the Criteria

10 minutes

So, you have carefully chosen a text, employed the best comprehension strategies known to man, marked up the text, demonstrated the use of a graphic organizer, written rough drafts and produced final copies of summaries. Now, that’s a lot of work!  But you are not done yet because it all needs to be collected and assessed.

Whether receiving assignments from students in an electronic format or by paper the same writing standards need to be met and it is best that they know and understand these in advance. For me summary writing is the first ELA unit of the school year so there is great deal of new territory to be covered with the students, not only the writing itself but also the presentation of the final copy and the grading criteria. Although, it takes time at the beginning of the year to set up these guidelines I always appreciate having done so. Some of the details change assignment to assignment but much remains the same.

What makes a good summary?

20 minutes

To begin, students open to the journal entry they created early in the unit titled “What is a summary and what does it take to write a good summary?” They begin a new section with the heading “How to earn a 4 on a summary…” If you do not grade according to standards, simply change to the 4 to an A, or whatever is appropriate for your grading system.  I prompt them to get at their thinking and we end up with a list that looks like this:

  • Include an introduction with the article’s title, the author’s name, and a clear statement of the main idea, also known as the Big Mac
  • Use a variety of transitions to connect information in a logical sequence
  • Condense and combine information to eliminate choppy transitions
  • Have great flow and sound fluent
  • Restate the Big Mac as a conclusion, not repeat it                                                                      

To make your job easier, be sure that information matches the rubric for the assignment. It gives the students a clear picture of the expectations and will make the grading process easier for you.

Using this information on the list, students review their summaries, make any needed changes and confer with a peer to determine that it meets the criteria.

How to set up an electronic document

20 minutes

Once they are sure their summaries are in the best shape possible, the time has come to talk about formatting the final copy before submitting it for grading. I set up my iPad to project on the whiteboard (wirelessly, thank goodness, so I can walk around the room as I talk), open to a new document in Pages (or Word, Notability, etc) and walk students through the process of proper formatting moving through each step along with them.

  • Before  anything else, you MUST add an appropriate title to the document, for example: “Dalmations: Firehouse Dogs” Summary or Plot Elements Quiz
  • Choose an appropriate font for an academic document: Times New Roman, Verdana,Arial; set font size to 12
  • Set 1 inch margins (some programs do not allow changes)
  • A heading includes name, date and group, each on a separate line; single-spaced; aligned to the left of the page
  • Skip a line
  • Center the title; capitalize appropriately
  • Skip a line
  • Align text to the left
  • Indent paragraphs
  • Set line spacing to 1.5

The last few minutes of class are spent double checking the summaries and submitting them for grading.

Additonal thoughts on using the document created today appear here: