What is summarization?

  • Summarization enhances comprehension and retention of important information
  • Summarization helps students link to prior knowledge and make connections to main ideas in text
  • A summary has three defining features: (a) it is short; (b) it captures the most important ideas in the text; (c) it is written “in your own words.”
  • Summarization requires students to make generalizations from inferences.
  • Summarization requires students to prioritize, consolidate and condense.

What’s the difference between summarization and a retell?

When students retell they are rewriting or restating the details. When students summarize they retell but they are also condensing and prioritizing the important parts. Shortening requires comprehension and insight and is a much more sophisticated skill than a retell.

What are some comprehension strategies related to summarization that younger students can practice?

Strategy Description What does this strategy show?
Making a relevant connection Student makes a connection to something he or she knows about that furthers our understanding of the text Understanding of the main idea
Paraphrase Student can restate an idea in this or her own words Comprehension
Synonyms Student can generate a word which means the same as the stated word Comprehension
Jot notes Student can capture the main idea in a short phrase Determines importance/relevance
Key words Student can capture the main idea in a few words determines importance/relevance
Sorting/Prioritizing Student can sort and/or prioritize information to show what’s most important/least important t determines importance/relevance
Inference Student can make an inference from what the author implies grasps the lesson or enduring understanding of a piece of text


Generalization Student can make overreaching statements or conclusions about a piece of text Comprehension

Summarization: some example strategies

Enumeration List facts, characteristics and/or features 1st, 2nd,3rd

Then, next, finally

For example, for instance

Also, in addition, in fact, most importantly

Mind map

Main idea with supporting details

Chronological order sequence facts, events, and concepts in time or date order After, before, now, gradually, since, when, while

On(fill in date)


Flow chart


Compare and contrast Explains similarities and differences Although, as well as, both, but, conversely, either, however, not only , on the other hand, or, rather than, similarly, unless, unlike Venn diagram

Euler diagram


Cause and effect Shows how one or more events can lead to others Accordingly, as a result, because, consequently, nevertheless, so that, therefore, this led to, thus Flow chart

Mind map

Problem and solution Explains how a problem develops then describes what can be done to solve it Accordingly, as a result, because, consequently, nevertheless, so that, therefore, this led to, thus Flow chart

Mind map

 Summarization Vocabulary (sample set of words to stress)

  • Such as
  • Again
  • Also as
  •  As a result
  • As well as
  • Because
  • Before
  • Between
  • But
  • During
  • Even though
  • Finally
  • First
  • For example
  • For this reason
  • However
  • If
  • Immediately
  • In the same way
  • Next
  • On the one hand
  • On the other hand
  • Then
  • Therefore
  • Throughout
  • While
  • Yet

 Tips for Writing a Summary

Source: Vacca and Vacca from

Vacca & Vacca provide some guidelines for writing summaries that can be adapted for students of various ages, and used by individuals or groups. This is what they say:

1. Include no unnecessary detail. In preparing a summary, delete trivial and repetitious information from the text passage.

2. Collapse lists. When a text passage includes examples, details, actions, or traits, reduce these into broader categories of information, using a key word or phrase to name the concept they exemplify.

3. Use a topic sentence. Expository text sometimes contains explicit statements of the major thesis and precise topic sentences. However, if the text implies its thesis and topics, create explicit statements of them for your summary.

4. Integrate information. Combine the thesis statements, topic sentences, and key words or phrases that you created for your summary into a coherent piece of writing. Your summary should be intelligible to someone who has not read the original text.

5. Polish the summary. Revise the draft of your summary into an organized, natural-sounding piece of writing. As you go through the process of rethinking to accomplish this, you will gain a firmer grasp of the main points of the material and state them with the clarity that characterizes fine writing. 

Summary: What it is and is not

Source: Marc Pennington, Reading Specialist,

Target Grades: 7-12

Students use a t-chart and define what a summary is and what a summary is not.

 Teacher support notes:

A summary is not…

  • A re-tell of a story. There are no main ideas in the narrative genre. The structure of a narrative work is completely different than that of an expository work.
  • An abstract. A research abstract has a different structure and purpose than say an essay.
  • A review. A review is designed to report on the good and the bad. Its purpose is to opine.
  • An analysis. Summaries list and explain, but do not analyze.
  • The summarizer’s opinions
  • A list of ideas
  • Written in the first or second person

A summary is…

  • Usually no more than one-third of the expository text length and is often much less. The length depends upon the text itself and the purpose of the summary.
  • A useful, brief version that faithfully reflects the main ideas and major details of the expository text. Yes, there can be more than one main idea in a summary.
  • Designed to inform or explain such that the readers will be able to decide whether they need or want to read the full expository text.
  • Used to check the readers’ comprehension of an expository text.
  • Used to reinforce the main ideas and major details of an expository text.
  • A stand-alone application. It can be understood on its own and is not dependent upon the expository work from which it is developed.
  • Flexible enough to condense all manner of expository text: definition, analysis, description, persuasion, classification, comparison, and more, and is found in textbooks, encyclopaedias, scientific books/journals, atlases, directions, guides, biographies, newspapers, essays, manuals, directions, and more.
  • Written in the third person
  • Similar in organization to the original
  • Written in the summarizer’s own words

 Glossary of terms for Summarization


Comprehension (noun) This means the understanding of something. When summarising, you first need to read or listen to information to comprehend its overall meaning.
Concise (adjective) Another word meaning brief and to the point. A summary is concise and uses as few words as possible.
Descriptive (adjective) Text that is descriptive is likely to include lots of adjectives (describing words). When summarising it is not necessary to include all descriptions – only those that are important to the overall meaning.
Draft (noun) A rough copy or first version of a piece of writing. When writing a summary, read your first draft to make sure that the general sense of the original text has not been lost.
Explicit (adjective) If text is explicit it means it is clear, straightforward and without hidden meaning.
Factual (adjective) This means truthful and based on fact. Any facts that are not relevant to the main point should not be included in a summary.
Gist (noun) This means the essential point or meaning of something. You should read your summary to check that it captures the gist of the original text.
Heading (noun) Another word for a title. If you are shortening a very long text you may want to summarise under headings or sub headings.
Implicit (adjective) This means implied or hinted at. Sometimes you need to ‘read between the lines’ in order to extract hidden meaning in text.
Opinion (noun) A point of view. You should consider whether any opinions in the original text are appropriate to include in your summary.
Précis (noun) The written form of a summary is sometimes called a précis. A précis contains the main points and leaves out any unnecessary or minor details.
Proofread (verb) This means to read through a piece of work thoroughly to check for any errors.

Inside-Outside Circle

Inside-Outside Circle (Kagan, 1994) is a summarization technique that gets students up and moving. It provides a way to get students who normally would not talk to interact with others. After students read a section of text, the teacher divides the group. Half of the students stand up and form a circle with their backs to the inside of the circle. They are called partners A. The other half of the students form a circle facing a partner from the first circle.These students are called partners B. Partner A will speak first, quickly summarizing what they read. This takes about a minute.  Then partner B speaks for the same length of time, adding to the summary.  If the teacher stands in the center of the circle, he/she can monitor student responses.

Now it is time to move. Have the A students raise their right hands and then move two people to the right to meet with a new partner.  Repeat the summary with the Bs speaking first. For the third move, have all students who are Bs raise their right hand and move two people to the right. After they are with a new partner, they continue with the summary with partner A speaking first. Depending on the size of the class, teachers may have students move more or fewer times to complete the activity. Inside-Outside Circle holds all students accountable for having something to say.

Websites on Inside-Outside Circle:

Inside-Outside Circle Directions – PDF

Norm Green Shared Pair Circles – PDF

Strategies to Probe Deeply into the Text

Inside-Outside Circle by Spencer Kagan

Inside-Outside Circle



Jigsaw (Aronson, 1978) is a cooperative learning strategy that helps students work collaboratively to divide a task into manageable chunks. It can be used in any content area and can assist students with learning complicated material. The teacher presents the topic to be learned and divides students into small groups.  Each student is responsible for reading and summarizing part of the information on the topic. The student will present the summary of the information to the small group. Each student’s part is essential just like all pieces of a jigsaw puzzle are necessary for the complete picture. Each student gets to become a teacher and the workload is divided and conquered.

Websites on Jigsaw

The Jigsaw Classroom

Doing CL: Jigsaw

Instructional Strategies Online

Jigsaw Activity on Bullying

How to Build a Better Educational System: Jigsaw Classrooms

Oil, Water and Chocolate Mousse: A Science Jigsaw


Think-Pair-Share (Lyman, 1981) is a summarization strategy that can be used in any content area before, during, and after a lesson.  The activity involves three basic steps.  During the “think” stage, the teacher tells students to ponder a question or problem. This allows for wait time and helps students control the urge to impulsively shout out the first answer that comes to mind.  Next, individuals are paired up and discuss their answer or solution to the problem.  During this steps students may wish to revise or alter their original ideas.  Finally, students are called upon to share with the rest of the class.  There is also a Think-Pair-Square-Share.  In this strategy, partners discuss answers with another pair before sharing with the class. This activity ensures that all students are interacting with the information.  Teachers can use this activity as a formative assessment as they walk about the room listening to student conversations.

Websites on Think-Pair-Share:

Reading Think-Pair-Share

The Egyptian Cinderella Lesson Plan: Think-Pair-Share

Intel® Teach Program: Think-Pair-Share – PDF

 Noun Hunt

Target Grade: 2 and up

Take a paragraph and circle just the nouns. Write them out as a list. Ask the students what they notice.


Target Grade: 2 and up

Take a paragraph and highlight the who, what, where, and when. Then ask the students to answer the “why” with a prompt such as:

Why did the author write this text?

Why did the author think this subject was important?

Why did the author care?

Why did the author feel so passionate about this issue?

 Sound Bite

Target grade: 4 and up

Students prepare a 30 second “sound bite” about a particular issue. Students can tape their recordings on the computer or using another recording device.

Word Cloud

Target Grade: grade 6 and up

Place a piece of text into a word cloud program and study the resulting graphic. Which words are in the largest font? Do the largest words reflect the main idea? Do the largest words help you write a summary?

Automatic Summarization

Target Grade: 7 and up

Automatic summarization is the creation of a shortened version of a text by a computer program. Ask your students to find out more about this topic and why search engine giants might be so interested in it.

Lesson Idea using  “Auto-summarize”

Use Auto-summarize Tool in MS Word. Have students read a passage, enter it in a Word Document, auto summarize it, and then evaluate if the summary is accurate.

Have them figure out how the tool summarizes. Do they use the same approach? Should they?

Then give them a handout and have them summarize by hand.

Camp Songs

Target grade: junior-intermediate

Source: “Summarization in Any Subject: 50 Techniques to Improve Student Learning by Rick Wormeli

Select and teach your student a camp song from your childhood or a song that is well known and lends itself to word substitutions. Together or as small groups compose new lyrics based on the lesson content. E.g. sequence of events, the summary of a story, the most important parts of an experiment.

Here are some example songs:

Little Rabbit Foo-foo

Titanic theme

My Darling Clementine


 Decreasing the word limit

Target Grade: 6 and up

Model what it looks like to summarize a story or article. Make jot notes about what you’re going to include. Write out the summary in full sentences. Now cut it back to 50 words. Cut it back to 15 words. (Practice at home first if you’re reluctant.) Try the same thing (with another piece of text) with your class getting them to help. Let them try again in partners. Let them try alone.

Unnecessary words

Read a passage to students and then write a summary in front of them. Model how you reduce the number of unnecessary words and phrases. Explain your thinking as you cross words out or replace whole sentences with a pared down idea. Show what it looks like, for example, to replace an adverb and verb like “she quickly ran” with a more powerful verb such as “sprinted.”

Give students a passage and get them to cross out as much of the text as they can without harming the story or losing the gist of the article. Have students read their summaries out loud.

Summarization Anchor Chart

Provide students in small groups with several examples of summaries. Ask them to identify what is common in the examples with sticky notes. Provide another example and as a class ask students to identify features that they see that are similar. Create an anchor chart (later this could be used as success criteria) which details the components of a summary. Here’s one example:

-title and author

-main idea

-important details/evidence

-technical vocabulary

-don’t include opinions

-logical order

-transition words


Reduction Writing


Have students write successively shorter summaries, constantly refining and reducing their written piece until only the most essential and relevant information remains. They can start off with half a page; then try to get it down to two paragraphs; then one paragraph; then two or three sentences; and ultimately a single sentence.

Newspaper Mantra


Teach students to go with the newspaper mantra: have them use the key words or phrases to identify only Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How.

Newspaper Headlines


Take articles from the newspaper, and cut off their headlines. Have students practice writing headlines for (or matching the severed headlines to) the “headless” stories.

Sum it Up


Sum It Up: Pat Widdowson of Surry County Schools in North Carolina shared this very cool strategy with me. How’s it work? You have students imagine they are placing a classified ad or sending a telegram, where every word used costs them money. Tell them each word costs 10 cents, and then tell them they can spend “so much.” For instance, if you say they have $2.00 to spend, then that means they have to write a summary that has no more than 20 words. You can adjust the amount they have to spend, and therefore the length of the summary, according to the text they are summarizing. Consider setting this up as a learning station, with articles in a folder that they can practice on whenever they finish their work early or have time when other students are still working. 


Knowledge and Understanding Level 1 Level 2 Level 3 Level 4
Demonstrating Understanding: Summarizes important ideas and cites a variety of details that supports the main idea Limited: inaccurate and/or incomplete


-May provide one main idea; often confuses main idea and supporting ideas

-Some relevant supporting ideas

-Omits key information

Partial: somewhat accurate


-Most main ideas; some may be vaguely expressed

-Some relevant details

-Often has too much or too little information

Considerable: generally accurate

-Main ideas adequately expressed

-Most relevant supporting details

-Appropriate amount of information

-explicit cause and effect

Thorough: accurate and comprehensive

-All ideas clearly and concisely expressed

-Relevant supporting details

-Effective amount of information (may be synthesized)

-cause and effect including those that are implicit

(This rubric is modified from the OCA Student Success Kit from Pearson, 2009.)

Click on file below for Word format:


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