Women Firefighters Lead the Way to Writing a Summary

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Identify the main ideas and supporting details in a nonfiction article. Write a well-organized summary.

Big Idea

America’s female firefighters have worked long and hard to be accepted into this traditionally male profession. Write a summary that briefly expresses the main ideas in an article on this topic.

Activator: Preview the Summarizer & Review the Article

15 minutes

Graphic organizers aid students as they move through the writing process. The purpose of the one included here is as a place to organize ideas in a logical sequence before the producing a final copy. Over the years I tried out many and never came across one that works well for every type of article. Eventually from my experience with sixth graders, I ended up creating two: one for text with headings and one for text without headings. Starting with articles with headings will let us ease into the process of summary writing because these text features are like traffic signs on the highway to understanding. The graphic organizer can be adapted to accommodate any number of sections depending on the article.

We begin class by taking our first look at the graphic organizer for summary writing and read the directions for each part completely. Students understand that it will be used to write the summary of the article “For Men Only Not!” by Christine Graf, which we annotated previously.  Before even pulling out that article from their notebooks, I am pleased that they are able to recount the main points in sequence.

Time to Write

20 minutes

Using the document reader to project the text, we work together to fill in the each section of the graphic organizer. This year, as in the past, I am surprised that students prefer to fill in the organizer with complete sentences. I never lead them in this direction but it is always where they end up! When asked why, they offer comments such as “It’s the way I think” and “I’ll have to do it later anyways” and “It makes the final copy easier.” I let them know that each of them has to find what works best for their writing style and that bullet points are okay in the planning stage. I also mention that they do not have to write exactly what I do on my copy; they should take ownership of the writing and make it their own through word choice and voice. Now, that is advice they do take, so I rarely receive cookie cutter versions of this summary.

Anyways, I follow their lead by drawing out their thinking about the most important ideas from text and writing it in complete sentences on my copy. One positive thing about this method is that we get to talk about the need to continually read over what we have written in order to move smoothly from one idea to the next through the inclusion of transition words and phrases and the addition of essential information. Essentially we are planning, revising and editing all at once.

Here is an example of a completed summarizer. Also, for those of you having your students complete this assignment electronically, some advice on setting up a digital document appears here.

Wrap Up: The Final Copy

15 minutes

When the time comes for writing the final copy, I take the opportunity to make the point to students that the “question” sections in part 2 of the graphic organizer do not appear in the final copy. Be sure to check in with students that need support with writing tasks as this is a common mistake and something that they may need additional reminders to avoid. Instead, the purpose of the questions on the organizer is to help guide analysis of the text. For homework this evening, they complete the writing process. A final copy of a student's summary appears here.