The purpose of this activator is to get students thinking about what they already know about summarizing a text. Start by noting that when you read, it is a good idea to stop along the way and ask yourself “What is this selection about?” The answer is the main idea. It may be a word, phrase or sentence. Then ask, “What are the most important points?” These are the supporting details.
For practice with this skill, I pass out a short reading selection for students to work on with a partner. In this way, the students who are confident with this skill get to share their knowledge and those that are less confident are supported by a role model. Obviously, this type of partnering needs to be carefully considered ahead of time.
The work goes quickly and within 5 minutes students are ready to present their summaries: the main idea is the huge drawings on Peru’s Nazca plain. The supporting details are that 1) the size of some of the figures is so vast that they can only be seen from the air and 2) the reason the drawings have survived so long is the lack of rain in the desert. As they share, I point out and emphasize the work of those groups that not only accurately identified the main idea and details, but who also paraphrased instead of quoting directly from the text.
Like everyone, when students are presented with choices they are more likely to engage with the activity before them. For this lesson, I offer them three articles related to Earth’s environment that are at varying levels of difficulty: the easiest to access is about medicines made from rain forest plants, another is a grade level text about climate change and a third, a little more challenging, is about life in the deepest parts of the ocean.
One way to set everyone up for success is to meet ahead of time with struggling readers and writers and point them in the direction of the rain forest article. Preview all of the articles with the class and allow each student pick the one that he/she is most interested in.
When asked, the students readily share comprehension strategies that come in handy for understanding informational text: preview the text by paying attention to text features, highlight the main ideas and most important details, add notes that reflect your thinking in the margin. They are now ready to independently read and mark up the text, and to answer the questions that follow. The one change that I make is that they do not have to complete the “Write Now” section because they will be writing a summary instead. The rest of the class is spent silently reading and completing the comprehension questions. During this time I quickly check in with each table group to answer questions and clarify the directions.
I pull aside a small group of four students previously identified as below grade level readers to work with. As we read, I stop along the way to clarify the passage by asking my own questions and addressing their questions will help them be successful with the rest of the assignment. In order to gauge progress, they complete the comprehension questions independently.
Each student is expected to return to class the next day with the work completed. Some thoughts on how the grouping strategy used in class today appear here.