Summarization: One approach »
Chris Thompson teaches her seventh graders the Who, What, When, Where, Why, How approach to summarization in an effort to prepare them for informational text summaries. Analysis, synthesis, collaborative sentence combining, and the modeling of writing strategy are all techniques Thompson uses to guide her students through the process.

  • Summarizing isn’t a skill learned once and known forever more. It changes as the kinds and complexities of texts change.

Further Reading:

An excellent source for student examples, adaptable worksheets, and useful pedagogical information
As the name suggests, it offers fifty activities that reinforce the skills necessary for summarizing

“What’s the Gist?” Summary Writing for Struggling Adolescent Writers

Supplemental Materials:

Summarization vs. Paraphrasing


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We use summarizing when we tell a friend about a movie or share a funny experience in a text message. We summarize when we recommend a book or talk to the neighbor about our trip to the Grand Canyon. In many situations, there isn’t the time or need (or interest?) to give ALL the details.

  • In what other situations in your life do you find summarizing useful?
  • How and when did you learn to summarize? Was it all at once, or gradually?
  • What do you consider as essential elements of summarizing?

“Differing purposes and audiences necessitate different approaches to the texts and different structures and expectations for the actual summary” (21).

  • What are some purposes for summarizing in your classes? What kinds of texts do you expect students to be able to summarize? What strategies might be useful for students to know as they summarize those different texts for those different purposes?

Different genres (and even various texts of the same genre) have different patterns of organization. “When students are aware of linguistic cues. . . , they can identify text structures more effectively, which assists them with summarizing” (and reading comprehension).

  • What are some of the organizational patterns and linguistic cues found in the texts your students study in your class? How do your students deal with the challenging texts they need to understand and summarize?
  • Where do you currently use summarizing as a tool for enhancing writing in your classroom (not merely for a reading check)? What are some other possibilities for incorporating summary writing as a way to teach effective written communication in your classes?
  • Write a response to one of the reflections above. Then, go to and enter your text. Wordle is a program that creates a word cloud based on word frequency. Limit the number of words to 20 and see what the application shows you about your main ideas. Do they match what you thought your main idea was? What texts have your students written or read that might benefit from their trying this tool to identify main ideas? Identify a time you can use the tool to teach main ideas and summarizing in your curriculum.
  • Consider tags on blogs and websites as a short-form summary. Think of a time in your curriculum when it would be appropriate to discuss this idea with students and consider why tags are so important in online documents. When students are writing, plan for a time when they can stop, trade papers, and ask someone to write “tags” for the draft to this point (maybe one per paragraph?). Then, ask students to consider if the tags represent an accurate summary of the draft or not, and what the answer to that question might suggest for revision.


Although school writing encourages elaboration, many online genres value concision. With digital, short is best.  Check out Song of the Day summaries here

Consider using tweets as a way to help students state a main idea of their writing prior to elaborating it.