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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