Summarizing to Understand Text
By: Judy Zorfass, Liz Weinbloom, and PowerUp WHAT WORKS
As anyone who has ever tried to quickly explain the plot of a novel knows, summarizing a text requires a high degree of comprehension and the ability to organize information. Summarizing both demonstrates and fosters understanding. Learning to sift through text to extract the most important ideas, and learning to weave those ideas into a concise written, spoken, or graphical summary, will help students become college and career ready while addressing the following ELA Common Core State Standards in reading literature and informational text:
- CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.1 Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.
- CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.2 Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.
- CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.10 Read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently.
- CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.9 Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.
Summarizing is one of the most challenging skills for students to master, especially those with learning disabilities. Consider differentiated ways to describe and model summarizing—and differentiated ways to prompt students to try summarizing themselves—in order to engage the widest range of learners. Help readers to understand the purpose of summaries and learn how to identify the main ideas and key details in a text. Use technology to support struggling writers in crafting summaries by encouraging them to present their ideas in different ways.
Teaching summarizing with technology
- Skim the text to get a basic idea of what it is about. They can insert short audio summaries at the end of each section.
- Mark or highlight key words and details. If they are using digital text, they can mark the text by highlighting, making the text bold, using italics, and/or changing the font size or color.
- Ignore details that are not important by deleting them or crossing them out.
- Insert a topic sentence to begin the summary.
- Take online note taking while reading.
- Review and organize the notes using semantic maps and webs.
- Draft a summary and revise it based on feedback, in written or oral form, using recording devices.
You can help students use these strategies by demonstrating and modeling how to mark and highlight print and digital text, use text-to-speech software to support independent reading, and create a semantic map or drawing. You can also show students how to use features of word processing software to support summarization, such as headings and key words, images, graphs and maps, comments and notes, and tracked changes. The "Using Multimedia to Support Reading in Social Studies" video provides concrete ideas for supporting struggling students.
Differentiation in action
- CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.6.2 Determine a central idea of a text and how it is conveyed through particular details; provide a summary of the text distinct from personal opinions or judgments
Ms. Bailey will make use of the available technology tools. Her students will access a digital social studies textbook, which allows them to mark and manipulate text, and she will use Voice Thread—a program for recording audio summaries and self-critiques. She will also take advantage of Natural Reader, which allows students to have the text read aloud to them. Her students' summaries will be shared on the class wiki.
The chart below outlines Ms. Bailey's lesson plan, which is divided into three sections: before reading, during reading, and after reading.
Online teacher resources on summarizing
This article draws from the PowerUp WHAT WORKS website, particularly the Summarizing Instructional Strategy Guide. PowerUp is a free, teacher-friendly website that requires no log-in or registration. The Instructional Strategy Guide on summarizing includes a brief overview that defines summarizing along with an accompanying slide show; a list of the relevant ELA Common Core State Standards; evidence-based teaching strategies to differentiate instruction using technology; another case story; short videos; and links to resources that will help you use technology to support instruction in summarizing. If you are responsible for professional development, the PD Support Materials provide helpful ideas and materials for using the resources on summarizing. Want more information? See PowerUp WHAT WORKS.
Judy Zorfass, Liz Weinbloom, and PowerUp WHAT WORKS (2014)