Summarizing: That's what it's all about!

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SWBAT practice Summarizing pages, chapters, or headings in books from their browsing boxes.

Big Idea

Introducing the concept of Summarizing


I didn’t realize there was a difference between Summarizing and Retelling until I had already been teaching for several years. I thought they were interchangeable, partly because they had always been presented that way, even in our district reading assessment materials. So, naturally, I taught them interchangeably. I remember the exact moment that I realized they were two very different strategies, almost opposites. I was sitting in a workshop when the presenter kept referring to Summarizing as just the main idea of a story, which should be one or two sentences, and referred to Retelling as telling a story again with details from the beginning, middle, and end.  It was truly one of those “ah-hah” moments and it instantly impacted the way I teach these equally important reading skills. In this unit, I will focus on Summarizing, and teach students to sum up a page, chapter, heading, or entire book with just the main idea by answering the simple question, “What it is it about?” In the next unit on Retelling, they will learn to expand those ideas and include details and re-tell the most important parts of the entire text.


I like to spend a sufficient amount of time on each strategy to allow for an introduction, modeling, scaffolding, independent practice, assessment, and reflection. Therefore, I spend approximately 1 week on each strategy and follow a similar instructional routine. This is day 1 of Summarizing Week – Introducing the Strategy. 


10 minutes

Connection: I always start by connecting today’s lesson to something kids have previously learned so that it triggers their schema and background knowledge. Since this is the first they are learning about Summarizing this year, I start by telling them about a popular movie that I saw recently.  I mention that I saw the movie (insert a title here) and tell them a brief description of what it’s about. I engage them in the conversation by asking if they’ve seen the movie and if they liked it or not. I point out that instead of telling them everything that happens in the movie, which could ruin it for those who haven’t seen it; I simply summarize what it’s about by just telling them the main idea.  


Teaching Point: This is when I tell kids explicitly what we will be working on. I say, “This week, we will be focusing on Summarizing, which is when we explain the main idea of a text in one or two sentences. I tell them that our minds should be constantly Summarizing while we are reading, whether it is a page, a chapter, a heading, or an entire book, because it will help us understand the text better.   


Active Engagement: This is where students get to try out the strategy that I just taught them. I ask them to think about their favorite movies. If someone asked them what it’s about, what would they say? I give them about two minutes of thinking time then I ask them to turn and talk to their partners to share.  I encourage them to start by saying, “This movie is about…”


Link to Ongoing Work: During this portion of the mini-lesson, I give the students a task that they will focus on during Independent Reading time. Now that I’ve introduced Summarizing, I tell them that when they are reading today, their job is just to practice Summarizing while reading one of the books in their browsing boxes. I explain that they can Summarize a page, a chapter, a heading, or an entire book that they’ve recently finished. At the end of Reader’s Workshop, they will meet with their assigned reading partner to discuss their summaries. I remind them that I will randomly choose a few students to share so that they make sure to complete their task. 

Guided Practice

45 minutes

Transition Time: Every day after the mini-lesson, students get 5 minutes of Prep Time to choose new books (if needed), find a comfy spot, use the bathroom, and anything else they might need to do to prepare for 40 minutes of uninterrupted Independent Reading.  


Guided Practice: Today, I would be conferencing with students right at their comfy spots and asking them to share summaries from the book they are reading. This is also when I could pull students for assessments, one-on-one reading, strategy groups, or guided reading groups. Because this portion of Reader’s Workshop is meant to be flexible and student based, it is not beneficial to plan too far ahead of time. Instead, you should gauge which students may need extra support through the mini-lesson, prior assessments, reading levels, overall ability and need for scaffolding. For Summarizing support, I will read with specific students, either with their own books or a teacher selected book, and look for good sections where students can stop and give me a summary of what they read.



5 minutes

At the end of 40 minutes, I remind students that their job during reading time was to practice Summarizing in their books. I ask them to repeat the term, Summarizing. Then I tell them to meet with their reading partner to share summaries. Did they share just the main idea? Were they able to keep it to one or two sentences? After partners have had a chance to share with each other, I ask a few students to share with the class. I then tell the class that we will focus on Summarizing for the rest of the week. Reader’s Workshop has come to an end so students put their browsing boxes away and make sure the library is neat and organized.