Writing a summary from text is an important process skill elementary students need to acquire. With regard to both literature and information text, the CCSS requires students to identify themes or main ideas and summarize the information. Like many teachers, I’ve been reading the standards listed for my 4th grade students in the Common Core and thinking about the instructional changes I’ll need to make in order to help my students be successful.
My Goal – Use a Strategy
My goal was to teach a strategy for summarizing that would enable them to read a passage of text, determine the relevant details and write a brief, focused summary. Of course, I wanted them to write in complete, grammatically correct sentences while demonstrating accurate capitalization, punctuation and spelling. To achieve this goal, I created a graphic organizer based on the G.I.S.T. summarizing strategy. G.I.S.T. is an acronym that stands for Generating Interactions Between Schemata and Text. It’s also a clever pun on the word gist itself, and so the name of the strategy is a useful reminder of its purpose.
Summary Graphic Organizer
My graphic organizer first asks students to determine the key details from the text by providing space for students to answer the 5W’s and the H – who, what, when, where, why and how. I don’t have them write in complete sentences at this stage, instead focusing on taking succinct notes on the most important information. Then they are asked to use that information to write a “gist of the text” in exactly 20 words.
Our first attempt at this strategy was done using an article in our Missouri Studies Weekly newspaper that we had read the day before. I wanted to use text that was familiar with students rather than distracting them with a cold read of new material. Their attention needed to be focused more on the strategy and less on the text since the purpose of the lesson was using the strategy to summarize. We completed the graphic organizer together as a whole group and I collected their papers to reflect on the lesson.
Over the next few days, I revised my graphic organizer to include a scoring guide. My intention is not so much on collecting grades for my grade book, but to provide students with a clear list of expectations for using the strategy. The scoring guide listed three areas – identifying the key details, writing a focused summary in complete sentences using those details, and our scoring guide for sentence writing, which we abbreviate to COPSS – capitalization, overall appearance, punctuation, spelling, and “sounds right” or grammar. I liked being able to integrate the COPSS expectations because it was very familiar to my students and would further reinforce these basic requirements of conventions.
Small Group Instruction
The next week, with my newly revised graphic organizer, I met with students in small groups to practice the strategy. We again used a familiar article from our social studies newspaper. I started the lesson with a brief explanation of the scoring guide and how to use those expectations to guide their efforts. I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly they were able to identify the key details. This is important because another ELA standard requires students to “read closely to determine what the text says explicitly.” My students frequently referred back to the newspaper to find their answers, which I took as an encouraging evidence of their growing ability to use text-based answers.
Writing a Summary “Out Loud”
When it came time to compose our summary, we started with a Write Out Loud. This is a strategy I use to have my students orally compose their writing before committing to paper. I find that it “primes the pump” so to speak with regard to their ideas and phrasing, and it also helps students with weak language skills to practice their ideas in an efficient manner. As the students spoke, I typed their words into a Word document with the computer monitor turned to face the group. Since we would be manipulating these words to make a cohesive 20-word summary, I needed a way to move words around easily and this did the job. An interactive whiteboard would also be just as useful.
Early Success at Writing a Summary
What I love about this strategy is that it requires students to be able to construct fluent, yet focused sentences within an easy to understand framework of exactly 20 words. I had earlier considered providing some flexibility during the early stages of instruction and allow for some leeway with the 20 word requirement. I am now much more hesitant to do so after seeing how well all the small groups managed the task of writing a summary of exactly 20 words. This modification may yet need to be used for 1-2 individual students, but I will wait to see if that is the case.
At the conclusion of our lesson, due to the size of the groups, I was able to quickly review each student’s completed graphic organizer with each individual student and point out what they did right and what they could work on next time with the scoring guide as our reference. Now that the lesson done in small groups has been successfully completed, I will do it with students working in pairs before eventually transitioning to individual work.
In next week’s post, I’ll write more about the process of teaching my students how to write a summary by having them work in pairs and using the scoring guide to improve their summaries.