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Whittle, Whittle it Down: Summarizing

Life Skills:

  • Thinking & Reasoning
  • Communication

Curriculum Tie:

Time Frame:
3 class periods that run 30 minutes each.

Group Size:
Small Groups


This "jigsaw" activity will give students the opportunity to work in groups to summarize a 1 to 2 page informational text. It "jigsaws" down to 1 class summary and can be done in 2 or 3 days. This plan was designed for a class of 22 students but can be easily modified by varying group size.

Main Curriculum Tie:
English Language Arts Grade 6Reading: Informational Text Standard 2
Determine a central idea of a text and how it is conveyed through particular details; provide a summary of the text distinct from personal opinions or judgments.


  • Overhead transparency of informational text
  • Chart paper with Five Rules for Writing a Summary (1. Collapse lists, 2. Use topic sentences, 3. Get rid of unnecessary detail, 4. Collapse paragraphs, 5. Polish the summary)
  • Paper copies or books of informational text (one for each group)
  • Blank transparencies
  • Pencil
  • Paper

Background For Teachers:
Teacher must be familiar with the Five Rules for Writing a Summary.

Five Rules for Writing a Summary

  1. Collapse lists. If there is a list of things, supply a word or phrase for the whole list. For example, if you saw swimming, sailing, fishing, and surfing, you could substitute water sports.

  2. Use topic sentences. Sometimes authors write a sentence that summaries the whole paragraph. If so, use that sentence in your summary. If not, you'll have to make up your own topic sentences.

  3. Get rid of unnecessary detail.Sometimes information is repeated or is stated in several different ways. Some information may be trivial and unnecessary. Get rid of repetitive or trivial information. Summaries should be short.

  4. Collapse paragraphs Often, paragraphs are related to each other. For example, some paragraphs simply explain or expand on other paragraphs in a selection. Some paragraphs are more important than others. Join the paragraphs that are related. Important paragraphs should stand alone.

  5. Polish the summary. When you collapse a lot of information from many paragraphs, the resulting summary sometimes sounds awkward and unnatural. There are several ways to remedy this: add connecting words such as like or because, or write introductory or closing statements. Another method is to paraphrase the material; this will improve your ability to remember what you read and enable you to avoid plagiarism - using the exact words of the author.

From "Direct Instruction of Summarization Skills" by V.C. Hare and K.M. Borchordt, 1984, Reading Research Quarterly 20 (1) pp. 62-78. Copyright 1984 by the International Reading Association.

Student Prior Knowledge:

  1. definition of summary
  2. definition of informational text

Intended Learning Outcomes:
Student will understand the meaning of a summary and be able to summarize a short informational text with 80% accuracy.

Instructional Procedures:


  1. Teacher reviews meaning of summary with the class.
  2. Teacher introduces Five Rules for Writing a Summary chart
  3. Teacher and students choral read overhead of informational text piece (not more than 2 pages long)
  4. Teacher reviews Five Rules for Writing a Summary chart and points out ideas for a good summary.
  1. Teacher gives each student in the group one card of five different colors. (I reuse laminated colored index cards).
  2. Students work together in their group to compose a summary according to the guidelines on the Five Rules for Writing a Summary chart. Each student must have a finished copy of the groups summary at the end of the period.

Display Five Rules for Writing a Summary chart


Reread overhead copy of informational text.


Group students in groups according to their colored cards. (This will give you one student from each group now making up a new group)

Students will take turns reading their summary to the group. They will then revise and write a group summary using the summaries written from the day 1. These summaries must be completed and handed into the teacher by the end of the period. (The teacher should have a group summary from each color group and will then copy each of these onto an overhead.


Display Five Rules for Writing a Summary chart.

Without identifying groups, teacher will display each group summary on the overhead. Students will then as a discussion group, assess each summary according to the guidelines on the Five Rules for Writing a Summary chart giving the following evaluation:

  1. needs improvement
  2. almost adequate
  3. pretty good
  4. Know what your doing
Teacher and students make a final summary, using the group summaries to display on chart in the room.

Strategies For Diverse Learners:
This is a group activity and special needs, esl or other low functioning students can be grouped so as to work with students who will mentor them in the process.

This lesson can be used in the beginning of teaching summaries or as an assessment at the end of the unit.

Literacy: Helping Children Construct Meaning, Fifth Edition by J. David Cooper, Nancy D. Kiger

Carol Hanley-Albrecht
brooke rauzon

Created Date :
Aug 01 2005 11:15 AM