Last week I wrote about teaching my elementary students how to write a summary. I discussed the graphic organizer I created and my initial lessons done with the whole class and in small groups. This week my focus is on how I continued teaching this strategy, and eventually how I extended it across the curriculum.
Writing a Summary in Pairs
When it was time to have students use the strategy in pairs, I carefully matched them according to ability and personality. I stayed with a familiar text once again so my students could focus more on using the strategy and less on comprehending the passage. Then we shared our summaries. To save time, I had each pair leave their completed summary on their desk. Students simply rotated around the classroom each time I said, “Switch.” Could you just have students pass the papers around? Sure, but I like to take advantage of any opportunity I can find to get my kids out of their seats and moving around.
Pause and Reflect
At this point, I like to press the pause button on my instruction by asking the students to write down their answers to these questions:
- How do you write a summary?
- What questions do you still have about writing a summary?
By asking these two questions, I am can quickly gain feedback about what students know and what my next teaching steps should be in response to their answers. I often have students write their answers on an index card (one side for each question) or a half-sheet of loose leaf paper. Just write the questions on the board and give them a few minutes to respond. I like to do this quick snapshot assessment now before I begin having the students write their own summaries. Based on their answers, I can rearrange the pairings according to their strengths and weaknesses for another round of paired instruction.
Teaching students how to write a summary involves more than practicing the strategy. In order for students to process the strategy at a deeper level, I’ve found it helpful to have them take on the role of teacher. By this I mean, I give students sample summaries to analyze according to our scoring guide. This enables students to understand the performance expectations thoroughly, which then translates into their using the scoring guide to improve their own performance.
Analyzing a Summary
You can create your own sample summaries of a familiar piece of text. Type them in a Word document, create a PowerPoint slide or just project them onto your whiteboard – whatever you have in your room. Make sure you create summaries that show varying degrees of proficiency. For example, I may write some that have incorrect capitalization, missing details or written as sentence fragments. Take note of the mistakes you see your students making when working with them in small groups and incorporate those same mistakes into your sample summaries.
Improving Your Summary
Model for students how you expect them to work with a partner and use the scoring guide to grade a summary before you have them do this on their own. Then, give them a scoring guide and let them analyze 3-5 summaries. Call them back together and discuss their scores for each sample. Invite students to not only share their score, but also their reasoning by asking, “Why did you give this summary a 4 instead of a 5?” Be sure to spend time discussing what the writer could have done to improve their score.
Writing a Summary Across the Curriculum
To further reinforce summarizing as an important strategy, I like to extend its use across the curriculum. The easiest way to begin is by asking students to give me a verbal re-telling of a shared story. Each week our class has a different selection story we use as the basis for teaching reading skills and strategies. At the end of the week, I show students cards with pictures/illustrations from the story from which students engage in a verbal re-telling. My job is to help them make the connection between a verbal re-telling and a written summary. Writing a summary can easily be extended in other areas of the curriculum. Of course, I’ve already shared with you how I began my strategy instruction in Social Studies. This strategy could also be used after reading a passage from a Science textbook, or after learning a problem-solving process in Math.
New Series Starts
Next week I’m starting a 12-week series on how I teach writing in my classroom. As you can probably guess since I have a blog, writing is something I enjoy doing and teaching. I’m super excited to begin!