Teaching students how to summarize nonfiction text can be quite a challenge. Fortunately, with the use of some colored pencils and a handy nonfiction summary graphic organizer, my students were doing it with confidence…and yours can, too!
Writing a concise, yet descriptive summary is an important skill upper elementary students need to learn. There are so many benefits to being able to write a good summary, especially from nonfiction text…
- improved comprehension of the text
- better retention of information studied in the passage
- practice at determining the important details and synthesizing information
- constructing sentences from phrases
Previous Summarizing Practice
I’ve written about how to help students use a nonfiction summary graphic organizer before with an emphasis on first finding the main idea. I’ve even used the same 5 W’s strategy that I’m sharing in today’s post, only my focus was more on combining it with the GIST strategy. However, this year’s students seemed to need a little more scaffolding than those earlier organizers. To that end, I decided to create a new nonfiction summary graphic organizer that would allow students to color-code the text before writing their summaries.
5 W’s Strategy for Nonfiction Text
First, let’s talk about the 5 W’s strategy for summarizing nonfiction text. Using the “Somebody-Wanted-But-So-Then” model is a proven strategy for fiction, but I needed something that would be just as effective for nonfiction text. I have been a big fan of the 5 W’s strategy for many years and for good reason. It’s easy to use because it has a similar approach to the SWBST strategy. Here are the steps:
- Students answer 5 questions using common question words that all begin with the letter W – who, what, where, when, and why. Answers at this point need not be in complete sentences.
- I like to leave the “why” question as the last one. It requires a little more thought than some of the other questions, such as when or where, which have more straight-forward answers.
- If your text is more process-focused, you could create a variation on the strategy and have students answer “how” as an extra question.
- Students use their answers and write complete sentences to create their summaries.
Cooperative Learning Approaches
Before you have students complete their nonfiction summary graphic organizer, I would first begin with some practice through the form of cooperative learning. This provides students with even more support before they begin writing summaries on their own. Here are two powerful, but simple ways you can do that:
- Shared Nonfiction Summary Graphic Organizer in Google Docs – read about how this teacher uses the collaborative power of technology to help her students learn to write summaries.
- Sticky Notes – give teams of students 5 sticky notes, one for each question. Have them work together to answer the questions and write a group summary. The group summary could be written by each team on chart paper and posted around the room. Spend some time discussing how summaries can have differences while still being accurate summaries – a great discussion!
Nonfiction Summary Graphic Organizer 2.0
My new graphic organizer has two features not used in my previous versions. First, I have embedded the passage directly into the organizer. Now it’s right there for students to read and refer to when writing their summaries. Second, I added the use of color-coding when answering the five questions in the strategy. This approach requires students to really search through the text for the most important information. It also enables students to organize their ideas before attempting to write the summary. Plus, coloring text details add a bit of fun to the whole task!
My students have experienced a lot of success with this nonfiction summary graphic organizer, and yours will, too! Click on the link below to start putting this resource into action with your own students today. There are two versions of the organizer included – one with a passage about voting and elections; the other is a blank editable template you can use to insert your own passage.
What other strategies do you use for teaching students how to summarize nonfiction text? Share your ideas in the comments below. Happy Teaching!