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Summarizing


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What Is It?

To summarize is to put in your own words a shortened version of written or spoken material, stating the main points and leaving out everything that is not essential. Summarizing is more than retelling; it involves analyzing information, distinguishing important from unimportant elements and translating large chunks of information into a few short cohesive sentences. Fiction and nonfiction texts, media, conversations, meetings, and events can all be summarized.

For example, to summarize the movie Memento, you might state: The movie Memento is a backward chronology of a man who tries to find his wife's killer, but has short-term memory loss. He keeps track of facts by taking pictures of events and tattooing facts onto himself.

Why Is It Important?

  • Summarizing allows both students and teachers to monitor comprehension of material.

  • Summarizing helps students understand the organizational structure of lessons or texts.

  • Summarizing is a skill at which most adults must be proficient to be successful.

Summarizing and reviewing integrate and reinforce the learning of major points...these structuring elements not only facilitate memory for the information but allow for its apprehension as an integrative whole with recognition of the relationships between parts (J. E. Brophy and T. L. Good, 1986).

In a synthesis of the research on summarizing, Rosenshine and his colleagues found that strategies that emphasize the analytic aspect of summarizing have a powerful effect on how well students summarize (1996).

How Can You Make It Happen?

Introduce summarizing to students by pointing out that they verbally summarize every day. Model a verbal summary by summarizing something you watched on television or a conversation that you had with a friend or another teacher. Point out that summaries don't include opinions.

For example:

"Last night, the San Francisco Giants beat the Atlanta Braves 3-1, to win the National League Division Series. Barry Bonds hit his third home run of the series in the fourth inning against pitcher Kevin Millwood. The Braves had a chance to win in the ninth inning, but Sheffield struck out with two men on base, and Jones grounded into a double play."

Explain how you decided what to recall to the class in your summary. The score, big hits, and the ending of the game were included in the summary. Each hit, who played each position, and the score at each inning's end were not included in the summary. The main idea was stated in the first sentence, or topic sentence. Point out that the summary doesn't include any opinions about the game.

Have students practice verbalizing summaries of familiar or interesting topics, such as "What I did last weekend" or "What do we do during a typical school day" before summarizing written texts.

To introduce the different strategies in summarizing fiction and nonfiction, review the essential ways in which fiction and nonfiction differ.

Fiction

To help students summarize fiction, introduce a story map or other graphic organizer, and ask them to fill in the information for a recent fictional text they read, or have them summarize a chapter of their favorite novel or story. They can also summarize the lyrics from a favorite song or poem. With younger students, read a story as a class, and then fill out a story map together. The lesson Story Elements: Danny and the Dinasaur can assist you in this process.

Once students complete the story map, have them use it to help verbally summarize the fictional text to a partner. Then, have them use the story map to write a paragraph that summarizes the text. Be sure that their summaries tell about the main characters, conflict, and conflict resolution.

Nonfiction

In summarizing nonfiction texts, introduce these steps:

  • Skim the text to get a general idea of the topic

  • Delete unnecessary or redundant material

  • Find the main ideas in the text

  • Find or create a topic sentence

  • Substitute general or "umbrella" terms when appropriate (for example, trees instead of oak, maple, and pine)

Demonstrate how to use the steps above to summarize an informative article or nonfiction text. (Examples can be found in the lesson plans below.)

Have students use the steps to summarize something they read in their local newspaper or in a magazine, a part of the school handbook, or a passage from a textbook. If you are working with younger students, work together to summarize a biography or any factual material that you have displayed in your classroom.

  1. Start by skimming the text to get an idea of what the text is about.

  2. Cross out sentences that are not necessary or that are redundant to help them pull out what is crucial to the message of the piece.

  3. Mark key words and phrases and jot down notes about the main idea. Instruct students to look for signal words such as therefore, in conclusion, or in summary.

  4. Have them verbally summarize the nonfiction piece to a peer.

  5. Then, have them reread the text and write a summary paragraph. In the summary, students should state the text's main idea in the first sentence and include the most important information. Be sure that students have not included any opinions of their own or sentences word-for-word from the original text.



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