Summarizing is a life-long skill that greatly affects student learning. It is also a skill that students struggle with significantly. One of the worst consequences of a lack of summarizing skill is the ease with which students will mistakenly plagiarize. Early in my teaching career, I noticed that when students were assigned a summarizing assignment, they would simply copy sentences from the book – rearranged. Rather than read a sentence and tell it in their own words, they simply switched the wording around.

Not only were they simply copying, they were doing it poorly. When I’d question their methodology and suggest that they were plagiarizing, they were adamant that they were not plagiarizing because what they wrote did not look exactly the same as the text from which they were copying. Finally, through trial and error, I discovered that if students read a paragraph, then covered it, then stated what they read in one sentence, they could often summarize the paragraph in their own words.

Summarizing allows students to reframe their understanding by identifying key facts and concepts and filing information away in long-term memory in a more concise form. Much research has been done on the efficacy of summarizing. Marzano, Pickering and Pollack do an excellent job of compiling and presenting that research in teacher friendly terms.

The following are a few ways to teach summarizing skills to students:

1) Story Retell- This strategy helps students identify main ideas. You can use it with a story that the class recently read, a movie, or something as basic as a fairy tale. The key is to choose something that all students are familiar with so that everyone can participate in a whole class environment.

Have students stand in a circle and give on student a soft ball. The student holding the ball begins to retell the story with one sentence. This student then throws the ball to another student, who tells another important part of the story. The activity continues until the end of the story is reached.

2) Delete-Substitute-Keep Strategy- Place a sample article on an overhead projector or computer display so that all students can see clearly. Read the article aloud and then have students reread the article silently. Then, turn off the projector and ask students to write one sentence to summarize the article.

Next, turn the projector back on and have students give suggestions for which unnecessary words or sentences could be deleted from the article to summarize it. Go through the article and substitute super-ordinate terms (such as trees for pines, oaks, and maples). Finally, reread the article without all of the deleted words and find the one sentence summary written by a student that best functions as a topic sentence for your new summary.

3) Jigsaw- The Jigsaw Strategy is a great way to help students practice summarization skills. Each student (or group) is assigned a section of an article, chapter, or book (the whole puzzle). They are responsible for reading that section (their piece) and teaching the rest of the class about their part. By teaching it to others, they will have to convey clearly the main ideas of their reading to ensure that all students understand all pieces of the puzzle.

If students do this correctly, they will have a complete understanding of the entire reading, even though they did not read the entire piece themselves. They will love not having to read the entire passage and thus will be motivated to do a good job!

4) Blind Summarizing- In my work teaching summarizing skills to students with learning challenges, I struggled to find a way to help them summarize without repeating what they read verbatim. Finally, one day when at my wits end, I told a student to read a paragraph.

After he read the paragraph, I made him flip the book over. Once he could not see the text, I asked, “Now, tell me what you read in one sentence.” It worked. Some students would initially go blank. However, with persistence, modeling, and practice, students started to be successful with reading one paragraph and then summarizing it in one sentence without that paragraph in view.

I taught my students that if they could summarize each paragraph they read in one sentence verbally and then write it down on paper, they would have a summary of a page or an article when they were done without the danger of plagiarizing. With continual practice, by the end of a semester, all my students could write a summary of an article without plagiarizing.

Please Help Me With My HomeworkFor more information about study strategies for your student, see Susan Fitzell’s book, Please Help Me With My Homework. Available in both print and electronic versions!

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