Summarizing skills must be taught to elementary students, although many teachers assume that the students automatically know how to condense the main ideas of a text. One of the main things to impart to students is that they do not have to give their own impression of what they read when writing a summary. They simply restate the main facts presented.
Present a text to the students and then show them three different types of rewritten texts. These should be a summary, a critique in which the writer presents his/her opinion about the material and a third in which the writer simply rewrites the text in his/her own words. Ask the students which one they would consider to be a summary. Discuss the critique and the rewritten piece explaining why they are not summaries. Lastly, discuss the summarization outlining the reasons that this is what a summary should look like.
The objective of the lesson is that the students will be able to effectively summarize a given text. In order to do this it is important to teach students how to identify the main idea of a paragraph. It does not necessarily have to be the first sentence of the text and could actually be the last. Ask the students to read the paragraph silently and then underline what they believe to be the topic sentence. As students give their answers, ask them why they chose this sentence.
Once the main idea sentence of the paragraph has been established, ask students to create a list of ideas in the paragraph that support this main idea. They can list them in point form, which is the simplest type of summarization. Each sentence of the paragraph will contain information supporting the topic, so students should be encouraged to find the same number of supporting ideas as there are sentences in the text.
When students can summarize a text using point form, the teacher can then teach them how to write the summary in sentences, making sure that they use third person and past tense. If the text provides directions or instructions or talks of a process of some kind, students should know how to use sequential words to show which ideas come first, second and so on. These are called transition words and ideally the teacher will already have taught a lesson on how and when to use these words. Thus a lesson on summarizing will cause the students to exercise prior knowledge in demonstrating that learning has taken place.
To evaluate how well students have understood the lesson and the level of learning that has taken place, they should be given a passage to read and summarize on their own. In this way, the teacher can determine which students need individual attention in further teaching and which ones are ready to progress with independent work.
It is important to note that this is not a lesson that one can teach and forget thinking that students will always use summarization skills when needed. It will need to be constantly revisited and retaught so that all students can feel confident in summarizing what they read.