Summarizing for Older Students

For students in second grade and above, summarizing will be the goal. In fiction, a well-known strategy such as “Somebody… Wanted/Needed…  But… So… Then…” can provide the visual and memory support a student needs to be able to effectively summarize a text. Keep in mind that explicit modeling of how to complete this sentence frame will be necessary before the student can become independent in completing it with new texts.

SWBS model chart with books

Likewise, there is the Bio-Pyramid (Macon, 1991) scaffold.


Person’s Name

__________     _________

Two words describing the person

__________     ________     _______

Three words describing the person’s childhood

__________     _________     __________    _________

Four words indicating a problem the person had to overcome

________     ________     _________     _________     _________

Five words stating one of his or her accomplishments

_______     ________     ________     ________     ________     _________

Six Words stating a second accomplishment

_______     _________     _________     ________     _______     _______    _______

Seven words stating a third accomplishment

________     ________     ________     ________     _______     ________     ______     _______

Eight words stating how mankind benefitted from his or her accomplishments

For informational text, the student would focus on “Who is involved?” “What is the conflict? Is there more than one conflict?” “Why did the conflict occur?” “Where and when does the story take place?” “How is the conflict resolved?” to effectively summarize.

I once attended a professional development session where a trainer shared that having students summarize by completing the 5 W’s and H hold students back from thinking critically.

I felt the color rising up my neck and, instead of letting it go, raised my hand to share my own thoughts on her observation.

I understand where she is coming from when we are discussing students who have had previous success in identifying the central idea of a passage and are ready to move to more complex thinking tasks such as synthesizing, critiquing, and creating.

I am not one to have students working “within the text” if they are ready to navigate “beyond” and “about” the text questions.

However, when teachers are working with students (such as those about whom this book is written) who do not yet possess the skills necessary to interpret the main idea of a text, or central theme of a passage without scaffolding, providing them with the building blocks is not taking away their ability to think critically.

It is giving them to tools to create foundational understandings, from which they can infer meanings that are more complex. We would give someone who needs directions a map – we are doing the same here.

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