How to Write a Summary With Elementary Students

Written by alissa pond mentzer
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How to Write a Summary With Elementary Students
Writing a summary is a critical thinking skill students begin to develop during the elementary years. (Jupiterimages/Goodshoot/Getty Images)

A summary is a condensed version of a piece of writing. Elementary students learn to write summaries of books, articles and reading passages to highlight the most important ideas, briefly describe story elements and review information for studying. Students may also write a summary of research they have gathered to help them organise information for a report. Lower elementary students may write a sentence or two to summarise a short passage or picture book. Upper elementary students write a paragraph or more to summarise chapter books and longer reading assignments.

Skill level:
Moderately Challenging

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Things you need

  • Grade-level-appropriate book, article or reading passage
  • Writing materials or computers with word processing software
  • Graphic organisers

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    Read and Take Notes

  1. 1

    Read the passage carefully and pay close attention to the title, chapter titles and boldfaced headings to help determine the author's main idea.

  2. 2

    Scan the passage again, looking for the most important details that support the main idea.

  3. 3

    Determine which information to include and which to leave out of the summary. Print or make a copy of the original piece of writing and use two different coloured highlighters to highlight main ideas and important details. Alternatively, underline important information and cross out unnecessary details.

  4. 4

    Take notes as you read. Write down information in short phrases. Leave out details that seem unimportant.

    Plan and Organize

  1. 1

    Look over your notes and find the most important ideas. Erase or delete extraneous details.

  2. 2

    Organise the notes into main ideas and supporting details. A graphic organiser, such as a content web or tree, can help make sense of the notes.

  3. 3

    Decide how long the summary should be based on the length of the original passage. For example, students may need to write a whole page to summarise a book, but they can summarise a magazine article in paragraph. Aim for your summary to be fifteen to twenty per cent of the length of the original piece.

    Write a Draft

  1. 1

    Identify the main idea and write a topic sentence for each paragraph. For younger students, a single sentence stating the main idea may be all they can write.

  2. 2

    Include supporting details to briefly explain the main idea of each paragraph, if writing more than one paragraph.

  3. 3

    Write a closing sentence that reflects the conclusion of the original piece or restates the main idea.

    Revise, Proofread and Publish

  1. 1

    Read the summary and determine if it communicates the main idea of the original piece. Check that you have not left out any important details and that the details support the main idea. Make revisions, if necessary.

  2. 2

    Make sure the summary is written in your own words. Look back at the original piece, if necessary, to be sure you have not copied anything word-for-word.

  3. 3

    Proofread the summary for spelling and grammar. Make any necessary edits.

  4. 4

    Prepare a neat, corrected final copy after editing. Draw an illustration, if permitted, that helps to summarise the reading passage.

Tips and warnings

  • Make sure you fully understand what you have read before you begin to write the summary.
  • Do not introduce new ideas into the summary; include only main ideas and details from the original piece.
  • Avoid rewriting the whole piece. Summaries should briefly describe or explain only the most important information from the original passage.
  • Do not include your opinions in the summary.

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