4 Summarizing Tips Upper Elementary

teaching summary writing activities

If you are an elementary teacher then you understand the struggle that comes with teaching students how to summarize and how to differentiate summarizing instruction.

The concept of summarizing is one of the trickiest for students to grasp. 

Recap the whole book or chapter, but make it brief? Insert confused student faces here! While there are different strategies to teach students how to summarize, I have found that the best way to drive home the concept of summarizing is to start with teaching students what they should NOT do when summarizing. The number one thing students should NOT do when summarizing is to retell what they have read and usually, this is what they do initially!

By beginning summary writing instruction by showing students a retell, you can easily explain the difference between the two. In the primary grades, students are always asked to retell a story. Retelling is something that students know how to do, making it the perfect way to grab their attention when teaching how to summarize. It also allows students to easily make connections within their own learning. The students can self-monitor their summary writing, by asking if what they wrote is a summary or a retelling. 

Read on to find out how I begin tackling the concept of summary writing with my students. 

1. Select a Book to Summarize What Was Previously Read Aloud

teaching summary writing activities

By the time I begin summarizing instruction, we have already read many different picture books. Before the lesson begins, I pull out a few of the class' favorite previously read picture books and display them. I also write a retell and summary for one of the books before the lesson begins, so that the students will have modeled writing to compare summaries and retells when the lesson gets started. Using previously read books is a great way to teach summarizing, since it allows the students to focus on the skill of summarizing, instead of trying to comprehend the story for the first time. (Read more about using previously read books during reading here.)

2. Create an Anchor Chart

teaching summary writing activities
I prepare an anchor chart ahead of time to complete with the students during the initiation of the lesson. A simple SUMMARY vs RETELL t-chart always does the trick. Then I enlist students to tell help me fill it in by telling me what they already know about both summarizing and retelling. Their ideas are discussed and recorded. Using the completed T-chart we begin our discussions on the differences between summarizing and retelling. 

3. Use Modeled Writing

I love to use modeled writing in the classroom for teaching just about everything! After we discuss our summary vs. retell T-chart, I share with the students the retell that I prepared ahead of time, of  one of the previously read books that I have displayed. Students can immediately pick the book that is being retold because it includes all the details of the story.  At this point, I enlist help from the students to cross off some less relevant details from my retelling that would not make it into a summary of the same book. Then I unveil the pre-written summary. Presto! The summary looks like the retell without the unnecessary details. This part of the lessons helps students to understand not just the difference between summarizing and retelling but also illustrates to them that they already have the skills to write summaries!

Need a summary model writing example? Try this one!

4. Practice, Practice, Practice

After analyzing the modeled writing, students are able to grasp the difference between summaries and retells. Now is the time that we practice. I send small groups of students off to write summaries of different previously read picture books, but only give them an index card to write their summaries on. This reminds the students that summaries include only the critical information from the book and are brief. When students are done, we come back together as a class and begin to share. We use our class created T-chart of summaries vs. retell to help us decide if students have written brief summaries or story retells. Students are also able to evaluate if the summaries that students share included important information since they have all heard the stories that students wrote summaries about. 

Head HERE for more summarizing practice activities!

Moving Forward

teaching summary writing activities 4th grade
Summarizing Organizers
This lesson is a great way to introduce summaries in your classroom, but it is only the beginning. This lesson provides the students with background knowledge to help them understand the structure of summaries and provides an anchor chart visual of what to do, and what NOT to do when writing summaries. At this point, student summary writing skills are just developing, so they need to be honed and sharpened throughout the year. (Yes, this is a year-long process!)  There are many different strategies to help students perfect their summary writing skills. My favorites include: 
  • The 5 Ws-Students answer the 5W questions about the book that they are reading to help them write their summary. Who? What? When? Where? Why?
  • SWBSA-This strategy works well when reading books with strong characters. This stands for somebody, wanted, but, so, and. Once the students complete an SWBSA organizer they can easily write a summary.
  • Story Map Summaries-Students complete a story map after their reading. Using the completed story map, students then write a summary. 
If you are finding that your students are struggling with including important information in their summaries, try teaching a lesson on interesting vs important information. Create a class t-chart to help students understand the difference between the two. 

Summarizing is one of the most difficult concepts to teach and requires many follow up mini-lessons to help students succeed. Reading passages and task card practice for repetitive practice does help! Students must be given many opportunities to practice writing summaries, so do not expect them to become experts right away. Hold your students accountable for summary writing at least once a week. The more that students practice the better they will become. Students should also be sharing summaries orally each day. This can be done while you confer with them one-on-one or during reading partnership time. 

Remember the more times a student can practice summarizing, the better that they will become! Read about strategies for teaching other reading concepts like questioning, HERE.(Grab free summarizing teaching points to guide your follow up lessons below.)

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6 Autumn Fall Picture Books for Upper Elementary Classrooms


One of the trickiest things that I have found about being an upper elementary teacher is the ability to stay on track with content and standard-based learning while celebrating the all-engaging seasons and holidays in the classroom.  

Even though students are getting older in the upper grades, they still love to celebrate the changing of seasons and each of the holidays, too! And to be honest, so do I! I always look forward to the beginning of each new month when I can take out my monthly stack of picture books, change out the door d├ęcor, and get ready to dive into each holiday. 

As the years go by and more and more standards are introduced and the scope and sequence gets tighter and tighter, it gets harder to squeeze in the all engaging seasonal activities! 

With a little creativity, engaging picture books, and content alignment, you can still celebrate each season in your classroom! 

These fall picture books and activities are the perfect way to welcome autumn into your upper elementary classroom while providing content-based lessons and addressing the standards, too!

Here are my favorite read-aloud books to share with students during the autumn season. Read on to find out more about each book and be sure to grab the coordinating FREE student activity for each book at the bottom of this post. 

The Scarecrow's Dance  Written by: Jane Yolen

picture book freebiesI cannot rave about this book enough! There is no end to the lessons that you can do following a read-aloud of this book, as it easily connects to many different reading and writing units and standards. This book follows a nighttime adventure of a scarecrow that is not sure about his place in the world. It is chock full of figurative language with similes, metaphors, alliteration, and personification. It is written in a way that students will discover these writing techniques on their own, even if you have not introduced these concepts yet, making this a great book to tie into revising lessons during your writing block. This book also filled with amazing word choice! With synonyms on almost every page for walk, like trotting, jogging and pirouetted, it pairs nicely with lessons on synonyms, antonyms, using a thesaurus, and revising a written piece for better word choice. Lastly, I love to talk about context clues with this book. Many words included are new to my students, like forlorn, making this a great way to introduce or review the use of context clues to help you understand the text you are reading

Too Many Pumpkins Written by: Linda White

autumn picture book freebieI have gone through so many copies of this book in my teaching career! We read it several times each year and the kids always love to revisit this book on their own because of the great story and amazing illustrations. Though a longer story, the kids are always engaged and on the edge of their seat with the turn of each page. This book follows the main character, Rebecca Estelle, as she tries to rid her yard of pumpkins. The story takes place over the course of a year, allowing students to see the progression of how pumpkins grow from seed to fruit.  With too many pumpkins and not enough uses, this book is a great backdrop to writing math multiplication word problems. This is a book that you will want to read again and again for different uses, one great use is summary writing. Read this post to find out how I repurpose read alouds in my classroom. Grab a coordinating activity for FREE at the bottom of this post.

Why Do Leaves Change Color? Written by: Betsy Maestro

autumn picture book free
I read this book during my first year of teaching and it has become a staple in my classroom, being read aloud to my students each and every fall season. Is there a better nonfiction author than Betsy Maestro? Though filled with high-level concepts, content, and vocabulary such as chlorophyll, pigment, and tannin, your students will easily understand how leaves change color. I love dissecting this book for its content and informational text writing style and also introduce note taking with the students. The leaf rubbing activity at the end of the book is a must and a great science-art connection. 

autumn picture book free

Winter is Coming Written by: Tony Johnston

This book is beautifully illustrated by the incredibly talented Jim LaMarche. (I can’t rave enough about his book The Raft, see more about that book HERE) Each page is filled with beauty with written words and pictures all about fall. It follows a young girl who keenly observes her setting, noticing each and every small detail that signals autumn is on the way. She keeps track of all she observes in her own notebooks, through the words and sketches she records. What better activities than to take the kids on an autumn walk and have them do the same! This is a great way to teach descriptive writing, focusing specifically on writing descriptive settings.

Because of an Acorn Written by: Lola M. Schaefer and Adam Schaefer

autumn fall picture book freeI love this book because it is an upper elementary version of circular stories. This story leads to meaningful discussions about the power of an acorn and will give your students opportunities to predict with each turn of the page. This book is short and sweet and will not take a lot of time to read aloud, but the message of the book will stay with your students for a lifetime. Don’t forget to read the informational pages at the end that help students understand how important forests and ecosystems are to our planet. 

Those Darn Squirrels! Written by Adam Rubin

fall picture book freeI came across this book in the discard pile of my local library many years ago and have enjoyed reading it with my students every year since! In this story, Old Man Fookwire who is trying to feed his birds gets wrapped up in a battle of wits with the pesky seed-stealing squirrels. Fookwire and squirrels take turns devising plans and carrying them out to stop the other. This is the perfect book to connect to your STEM lessons and NGSS engineer, plan, and design standards. Grab a coordinating activity for FREE right here!

There is nothing more powerful than reading aloud to students. I look forward to sharing each and every one of these picture books with my students as we welcome the season of fall before the cold weather of winter hits! I hope that you enjoy sharing them with your students, too! 

fall picture book free

Looking for an all-in-one Interactive Read Aloud Resource this fall season? Click HERE.

Check out my favorite fall activities HERE

Like this Fall Close Reading Pack

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3 Tips For Successful Reading Conferences

reading workshop conferences

Conducting reading conferences with your students is an important part of reading workshop. 

A teacher-student reading conference takes place during independent reading time within your reading workshop block.  During this quick one-on-one meeting time, the teacher listens to the student read, they discuss the book that they are reading through discourse about the reading strategies that the student is using, and the teacher compliments the reader and gives them a suggestion or tip to use as they continue to read. 

By conferring with your students you are giving them one-on-one time devoted solely to improving their individual reading skills. It is reading differentiation at its best! Reading conferences allow students to get tailor-made individualized mini-lessons suited just for them!

It is important to make the most of the time that you have for your reading conferences. This will ensure that the student you are conferring with gets reading strategy work that will help them get stronger as a reader. Grab a reading workshop kit for FREE below.

Here are some ways that I have found that work for me to make the most of your individual reading conference time.

Be Organized

reading workshop conferencesPlanning for reading conferences can be challenging. Students that you planned on meeting with might be absent during your reading time, your mini-lesson may run over time, and students you thought were ready to work alone, may need a little extra support to help get started independently. All of these interferences cut into your reading conference time, meaning you will not meet with as many students as you had planned. My goal is to always meet with about five students each day. This ensures that by the end of the week I would have met with all of my students at least one time. 

To help me stay organized, I keep a reading conference log right at the front of my binder. It is completely organized to keep track of the conferences that I have had and which type of conference it was. Although traditional reading conferences are between the teacher and one student, I also utilize partner conferences and strategy group conferences as teacher conferring opportunities. These type of conferences do not occur as often, but there are days that students work together on reading tasks, so when I meet with them as a pair, we all confer together! I also mark this sheet with information that will help me keep track of student growth such as absences or when a student is pulled out of my classroom for additional services. This page serves as a great tracking system! This sheet is also helpful for planning. Before reading workshop begins, I can quickly look at this page and know which students I will need to confer with that day.

Be Prepared

reading workshop conferencesHaving a reading conference toolbox is a great way to be prepared for all of your reading conferences. 

Inside my reading toolbox are the essentials that I need to meet with each student for their reading conference. It contains a reading workshop conferring guide to keep me on track, a previously read picture book from the current unit of study, so that we can refer back to it together to review strategy work, conference datasheets for me to take notes on, reader take away cards so that I can leave the students with a handwritten compliment and suggestion,  and of course pencils, highlighters, pens, and sticky notes!

Having student data sheets are a must! The more detailed notes you take during the conferences, the better you are able to help each student as an individual. You can use a plain notebook and take detailed notes, making sure to note the student's name, date, and book that they are reading, or you can use very detailed note sheets to track reading fluency, include strategies, and your entire discussion. Both work well, so pick the style that works for your! Just be sure to keep track of each and every conference that you hold with each student. 

Be Positive

reading workshop conferencesAlways, always, start your reading conferences off with a positive vibe, to ensure that the students are excited to see you approach them for a reading conference. When you first get next to your student for a conference be sure to give them a compliment about what they are doing. Some suggestions for compliments could include student organization, the student getting lost in the book, student taking notes, student use of reading strategies, or student fluency after you listen to them read. The more positive and celebratory that you are, the more the student will continue to do what you celebrated as they read independently. Be sure to always mix up your compliments each time you meet with a student.

Be Present: Leave Your Voice Behind

reading workshop conferences

reading workshop conferences

I love using these reader take away cards to help students stay on track while they independently read. I use them in two different ways. 

The first way I use them is during our reading conference. I will take quick notes on each card as we speak, including a compliment and a suggestion. When I leave, the reader gets to keep this card. They can use it as a bookmark, keep it in their reading folder, or staple it to their reading notebook page. When students forget their focus or goal, they can take out the card and remember our conversation during our conference and “hear” my voice once again coaching them along. 

I also use these reader cards on days that I did not meet with a student to confer, especially if a few days have passed. I will collect student notebooks or activity pages and correct it, and fill out a reader card with a compliment and suggestion just as if we were having a conference. When the student’s work is returned, they will see the reading card and know exactly what they are doing well and what they need to focus on as they continue to read. These cards are a great way to keep track of your conferences, too! 

Reading conferences are a powerful tool to help your students grow as readers, but they must be planned and purposeful, just like all of the other elements of reading workshopThese tips and strategies will help you to make the most of the time you have to confer with your students. 

If you are looking for more tips, check out the professional reading book: Conferring with Readers. I love this book and refer to it often! It is a great professional read to help you understand the ins and outs of reading conferences.

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3 Ways to Effectively Use the Mid-Workshop Break

reading workshop upper elementary classroom

The Reading Workshop model is a great way to engage students in reading and build their reading stamina throughout the year. This means that as the year progresses, students are able to sustain reading for longer periods of time. One way to increase reading time on task and reading stamina during your reading workshop block is to use the mid-workshop break. 

The mid-workshop break takes place about halfway through your reading block after the students have read independently for about 20 minutes. It allows the students a chance to take a quick, yet purposeful break, then return to their reading recharged and ready to go! 

The mid-workshop break is a scheduled pause during independent reading and something that is exciting for the children. Our workshop break is always a positive experience and a highlight of our reading time. It is a chance to celebrate the great thinking that your students are doing as readers. It is not a time to redirect or correct students. You want students to leave the break energized and ready to keep on reading! 

Here are three ways that I have found engage and energize my students during the mid-workshop break. Only use one of these a day as the mid-workshop break is a just a short pause in their independent reading time. It is about 5-8 minutes long, just enough time to stretch, discuss reading strategies, and then get back to reading!

Reader Super Star Shout Out

motivating students during readers workshop

By the time the mid-workshop break comes along, I have had enough time to check in with a few students and find great examples of reading strategies in use. After celebrating each student, I put a sticker in their reading notebook next to their writing evidence of a reading strategy in action. On days that we have Reading Super Star Shout Outs, those students stand up and share how they used a reading strategy during their reading. After about three students quickly share, we ring the bell, and reading time resumes.

Why I love it: This strategy calls attention to students who can be reserved or too timid to volunteer to share on their own. There is always something positive to share about students of all levels. It is a true confident booster!

Reading Conference Highlight

reading conference teacher form

This is a great mid-workshop break strategy to use when you are short on time because you control how long this one takes to share. By the time the mid-workshop break rolls around, I have met with a handful of students for a reading conference. During this time, I pay close attention to strategies in use and take quick notes on stickies to share during the break. During this type of break, I share student thinking about something about a previously taught strategy, a strategy used correctly from the current unit or even a reading fluency strategy that was used. I always ask for student permission first and make sure that it is OK that I share their thinking with the whole class. Everything that I share during the mid-workshop break is always positive, remember that this is not a time to redirect or correct students. At the close of this type of mid-workshop break, I present the students with a challenge to see if they can use the same strategy in their reading. Grab a copy of a reading workshop kit for FREE below.

Why I love it: This is completely teacher-controlled. It is perfect if you are short on time or have a lot of students absent (students would be without their reading partner so they would not be to collaborate during the break).

Stop, Collaborate, and Listen

reader's workshop partner talk guide and reading stems

As you can imagine, this is always the class favorite! 

Students love to collaborate and talk with each other! Who doesn't love to get up and talk to their friends, especially about a good book? This mid-workshop break strategy has to be very structured and purposeful or students can get off task quickly. During this time, my students meet with their reading partner (these change for each reading unit) and discuss a specific question that I pose related to the mini-lesson. This question is shared before students head out to read on their own and written at the board. During the first 20 minutes of independent reading, the question focuses students' reading and gives them something ahead of time to share with their partner. 

For example, if we are in a character study unit a question for this type of break may be: Think about the main character in the book you are reading. Would you be friends with that character, why or why not? Students would need to collect evidence to support their thinking on a sticky note and be ready to share with their partner. They are also encouraged to read aloud a section of the book to support their reasoning. After both partners have shared, they head back to their independent reading spots and after about 8 minutes all students are back to reading independently. Grab a copy of this student partner talking guide that I use for FREE below.

Why I love it: Student engagement!

The mid-workshop break is a planned and purposeful pause during reading. As with all the steps of the reading workshop model, the expectations of the mid-workshop break require explicit teaching, practice, and time for students to know what to do and to do it successfully. The more time you spend practicing, the more effective this break will be for both you and your students. Students will return to their reading energized and excited to read for the remainder of your reading block.
How do you run your mid-workshop break?

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3 Ways to Effectively Use the Mid-Workshop Break

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6 Tips to Keep Your Mini-Lessons Mini

mini lesson strategies

The reading workshop model is highly effective to help students grow as readers. 

The first part of the workshop model is the mini-lesson. 

The mini-lesson is the time that you teach your students a specific strategy or skill that you want them to carry over into their own independent reading. It should be no more than 5-10 minutes. It is important to stick to this time limit since the biggest chunk of your reading workshop time is having your students read independently. For me, the hardest part of the mini-lesson is keeping it mini! 

Here are some strategies that I have found to be successful to keep my mini-lessons within ten minutes.

Use a Timer

readers workshop tips

Grab a timer and set it for eight minutes.  When it goes off, you know that you have to wrap up your mini-lesson. This gives you the opportunity to finish up what you are teaching or squeeze in a part from your lesson you did not address yet. 

You can use a large visual timer, a small timer on your smartboard, or an old finished wind-up timer. Anything works! After a week or two, you will start to get a feel for what ten minutes feels like while teaching and you will soon begin to finish right when the timer goes off! Don't worry about keeping the timer out of view from your students. Include them in your mission to keep your mini-lesson mini. By helping them become aware of the time restraints, they will understand when student talk time is kept to a minimum.  Click HERE* for the timer that keeps me in check.

Use a Guide 

reader's workshop forms for upper elementary

When I first started using a reading workshop modeled, I kept a mini-lesson planning template on a clipboard behind my chart paper stand. It is a great visual for me to help me move through each of the steps of the mini-lesson in a timely manner. You can also fill in the template with what you want to say and have the students do to maximize your mini-lesson time. The time it takes to plan out each part of the mini-lesson is worth it to help keep you on track for the short ten minutes that you have to teach!  Grab a copy of the mini-lesson template I use for FREE below.

Pre-write on Anchor Charts

readers workshop anchor charts

Anchor charts are a great way to remind the students the steps of different reading strategies that you teach them. 

My room is always covered with anchor charts! To save time during your mini-lesson, be sure to pre-write some of the information on your anchor charts like the headers and subheadings. Anchor charts should be interactive so be sure to leave space to record student ideas whenever possible. By creating anchor charts ahead of time, you will not only save time during your mini-lesson, but you will be creating a lesson guide to follow, too! Grab a reading workshop bulletin board banner set for FREE below.

Break Out of Your Reading Corner

Another way that I shave some time off of my mini-lesson is to take a break from teaching in my reading corner. By bringing our mini-lesson right in front of our smartboard, I am able to prepare all of my slides ahead of time and use each slide as a guide to move through the mini-lesson quickly and efficiently. The smartboard slides work as a prewritten script to keep you right on track! You can type out the teaching point, information you want to share with students, and leave blank slides to record student ideas. Working by the smartboard is especially time-saving for topics that require a longer mini-lesson like the introduction or closing lesson to a new unit.

Read Ahead of Time and Re-purpose Past Reading

launching readers workshop upper elementary

This is a HUGE time saver. 

Read your mentor texts at a different time during the day and then refer back to them, or simply reread a specific page or passage during your mini-lesson. I have found that reading aloud during odd times during the day like snack and ten-minute windows between lunch and specials is a great way to get all of my mentor texts read with my students. Look at your schedule and see where you can squeeze in some read-aloud time. Even just ten minutes somewhere else during the day will keep your mini-lesson mini!

My favorite corner of my classroom library is the corner with my previously read basket. This basket holds all the books and mentor texts that we have read aloud throughout the year. It is a great reference spot for both myself and my students. For me, it is a great spot to grab a book that we have already read and discussed for a previously taught reading strategy, that can be revisited with different reading lenses. One great book that works as a mentor text for many different reading strategies and skills is The Raft written by Jim LaMarche. This book is great to teach everything! (Grab it HERE) Character traits, how characters change, symbolism, visualization, making inferences, and so much more! 

By repurposing books, you save the time needed to read, discuss and digest new stories. Our previously read basked is a place that I often find my students visiting, too. They enjoy rereading books that we have already read to grasp a deeper understanding. This basket is especially great for struggling and reluctant readers since they are already familiar with the storyline in these previously read books.

When it comes to keeping your mini-lesson, mini, these tips will do the trick! Keeping your mini-lessons short will allow your students more time to read independently, which is the ultimate goal of reading workshop

Check out my favorite reading workshop resources HERE

Like these must-have Just Right Books pack!

just right books for kids

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launching reading workshop upper grades

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