4 Quick Tips to Effectively Differentiate Summarizing Instruction

summary mini lessons upper elementary

Teaching students how to summarize is no easy task! 

It is often the most difficult of all the reading strategies for students to grasp. 

The concept of gathering all of the important information from the reading and recapping it in a short, yet informative paragraph is a challenge for most upper elementary students. While introducing the concept of summaries to students can be taught in a whole group setting, to truly help students master the skill of summarizing differentiated instruction is a must! By doing so, students will not only understand how to summarize, but the why summarize, too. 

When students summarize a text as they read they are able to:

  • Remember the most important parts of a text.
  • Carry important information from one chapter to the next.
  • Talk about the important parts of the book with other readers.

When readers summarize, they grow. 

They begin to enjoy discussing what they are reading, and not just with the teacher, but with their peers, too. Conversations about reading begin to take place throughout the day, all thanks to the students' ability to summarize. 

These tips for differentiating summarizing instruction are not only easy to implement, but are highly effective. After you have introduced the concept of summarizing with your students, try these activities during your small group instruction. (Grab free summarizing teaching points at the bottom of this post.)

Teach With Modeled Writing

4 Quick Tips to Effectively Differentiate Summarizing InstructionI love using modeled writing in the classroom! It provides students with visual examples of what is expected. To do this, take a few minutes to write summaries of the books that you have previously read in class before you meet with a small group. You can type the summaries and provide students with their own copies, or you can write the summaries on chart paper and display in the classroom. When students have a model of what is expected, it helps them begin to write summaries correctly. The key in using modeled summary writing is to dissect the written model with students. This shows them each important component included in the summary paragraph. Highlight the parts that you included in the summary that you want students to also include in their own summaries: character names, specific problem, event, and solution, and the use of your own words to write it. I love using the book, The Curious Garden*, written by Peter Brown for summary writing and many other reading strategies, too, like making predictions, questioning, and visualizing. It is perfect to use for modeled summary writing.

Teacher Tip: Save or copy your students' summary writing this year to use in future years as modeled writing!

Scaffold with Graphic Organizers

summarizing teaching ideas and lesson upper elementaryScaffolding with a wide variety of summary graphic organizers is a great way to have all students writing summaries at the same time, but with different levels of support. To challenge students, provide them with a basic T-chart to record important and interesting information from their reading. At the end of the reading period, students will take the important information and write a summary. This type of organizer provides very little support and requires critical thinking from students. Alternatively, to support struggling readers graphic organizers with sentence starters, fill in the blanks, and checklists are more appropriate. Using the SWBST frame is a great way to help students to remember the key story elements needed when writing summaries. Use this frame to guide struggling readers to write the perfect summary. As they write more summaries, they will need this support less and less.

Somebody- Who is the main character?
Wanted-What did the main character want?
But-What problem did the main character face?
So-What events happened to try to solve the problem?
Then-How was the problem solved?

When using graphic organizers to scaffold summary writing support, be sure to move students through different organizers until they can write a summary using their own words and including important information from their reading.

Task Cards Activities 

Task cards with short text is a great way to squeeze in a lot of summarizing practice in a quick and controlled setting. When students are all reading different material, it can be a challenge to assess their summary writing. By using typed text or task card text you know exactly what the students have read, allowing you to assess their summaries with accuracy. Here are my favorite ways to use task cards to differentiate summary writing instruction:

differentiated summarizing task card activity
  • SWBST - Have students read the short story on the task card and use the SWBST frame to write a summary. Short text is perfect for this using and practicing this frame!
  • Do They Match? - Make multiple copies of task cards or typed text. Have different groups of students read and write summaries for the same task cards. Have groups of students meet together and see if their summaries include the same important information, discussing why or why not.
  • Model Match Up -  To support struggling readers, use task card short stories and modeled summaries and have them match together the story and its coordinating summary. This can also be turned into a game of concentration. Don't forget to have students explain why the summary matches the short story and is correctly written.

Use Leveled Reading Materials

After different practice opportunities it is time to send students off to read their independent reading books to summarize as they read. One of the best and simplest ways to differentiate summary writing instruction is to make sure that students are reading just right books. When the level of the book is just right, students' summary writing will become naturally differentiated. Make sure students have read their independent reading book for at least 20 minutes before they attempt to write a summary. This will ensure they have read enough material to write a summary. It is critical to make sure students are in just right books, as students who are reading more complex chapter books are required to hold on to important information as they read and to differentiate important and interesting information. Students who are reading simpler chapter books will have less to hold on to and summarize. By reading the right leveled book, students will be able to appropriate summaries. Encourage students to take notes as they read to make their summary writing easier.

Teacher Tip: Have students summarize their reading each day. At the end of the week have students reflect on the summaries they have written and ask themselves:

  1. Do my summaries reflect what happened in the book?
  2. When I read the summaries all together, does it summarize the entire book? 

These simple questions help students to self-reflect on their own summary writing and focus on ways they can improve as they continue reading and summarizing.

Teaching students to summarize effectively right from the beginning of the school year is critical to helping them grow as readers. The more practice students have with summarizing, both orally and in written form, the better they will be at it. It will also help to make your reading conferences run smoothly, too! What is your best summary writing tip?

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summary lesson upper elementary

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