AVID in action

Summarizing is an important critical reading skill because it gives students the opportunity to understand what a reading selection is mostly about. This skill involves higher level thinking because students must be able to read and synthesize information into just a few thoughts. So how do you teach summarizing? First of all, explain that when we read to get the gist or main idea, we want to find the most important information and synthesize that information into our own words. When deciding how to summarize, we must first decide what kind of reading we are doing, either fiction or non-fiction. Show students examples that summarize a variety of textual structures and use both think-aloud and demonstration to teach this skill. Demonstrate doing a summary of a written passage by taking out material that is not important (this can be crossed out). Focus in on information or words that are repeated and then list main ideas. Look at remaining ideas and replace with a larger idea using paraphrasing. Finally, create a sentence or two of your own that summarizes the text.

In the primary grades, introduce the skill of summarizing with retelling, focusing first on the main ideas and the beginning, middle, and end of the story. Help the readers’ ability to summarize develop over time by teaching them how to synthesize the important details into a concise verbal or written product that highlights the writer’s purpose and the sequential unfolding of ideas or points. You may want to choose a familiar story or text, such as a fairy tale. Start by modeling a retelling that shows a sequence of events with a beginning, middle, and end of the story. Stop at key points during a read-aloud and have students turn to a partner and talk about how the story begins, what happens in the middle, or how the story ends. Ask them to draw the parts of the story and post pictures on charts labeled Beginning, Middle, and End.

To increase rigor, consider demonstrating techniques for various genres with more specific techniques. Have students determine the main idea of a non-fiction text by utilizing inquiry and inference from the title, subheadings, and other text features.

Summarizing the text is a great strategy to incorporate into the Marking the Text and Writing in the Margins strategies. When students become proficient at summarizing, it will become natural for them to mark the text by underlining key concepts and writing their summary in the margins.