Summarizing Spies



Reading to Learn

by: Trisha Daniel


Rationale: Once children have learned to read accurately and fluently, they must move on to the next step in reading. The next step in reading is reading to learn, which in turn helps kids reach the ultimate goal in reading: comprehension. This lesson focuses on summarizing, a strategy to help students begin to read to learn. This lesson will help students learn to summarize by teaching them to delete trivial and redundant information and to focus on the imperative parts of a text.



Class set (including one for teacher) of the article "Harriet Tubman: Civil War Spy"

Blank bookmark (for each student)

Markers (1 pack per group of students)

Poster with summarizing rules  (Delete unimportant or repeated information, Find important information,                     Write a topic sentence)

Overhead projector

Pencil and paper (for each student)

Assessment chart:

Did the student?



Get rid of unimportant information?



Get rid of repeated information?



Underline important information?



Write an organized topic sentence using only the important information?






1. Today we're going to talk about a strategy that will help us comprehend what we are reading. Does anyone remember what it means to comprehend? (Call on student.) That's right! Comprehending means to understand the message of what you're reading. The strategy we're going to learn today is called summarizing. Summarizing is like giving a review of what is in the text. Summarizing is a great way to help you understand and remember what you have read.


2. Before we learn more about how to summarize, let's review what we've been talking about lately. Who can tell me what we've been talking about in Social Studies? (Call on student.) Great, we’ve been discussing slavery and the Underground Railroad. Can someone describe the Underground Railroad for me? (Call on student.) That’s right, it’s a way that slaves escaped to freedom, not a real train.


3. Now that we all remember what we were learning about in Social Studies, let's get back to summarizing. (Display summarizing rules poster.) You all have bookmarks and markers on your desks. As we talk about each rule I want you to write it down on your bookmark. At the end of the lesson I'll give you some extra time to decorate your bookmark. The first rule of summarizing is delete unimportant or repeated information. Write that down on the top of your bookmark. (Allow writing time.) This means that if you see something that isn’t really important to the meaning of the text or something that you have already noted, you may draw a line through it (if it's on paper you get to keep, like the article we're using today) or mentally delete it (if it's in a textbook). The second rule of summarizing is to find important information. Write that rule on your bookmark underneath the first one. (Allow writing time.)  This means that when you see something that you think is important to know you should underline it, highlight it, or write down a key word or phrase to remember it by. The third rule of summarizing is to write a topic sentence. Put this rule at the bottom of your bookmark. (Allow writing time.) This part is a little trickier, and we will practice it together in just a minute, but it means to create a sentence using the information you noted as being important. This sentence captures all the important parts of a paragraph within a text.


4. Pass out copies of "Harriet Tubman: Civil War Spy," and display a copy on the overhead projector. Now we're going to practice summarizing as a class. This article is about Harriet Tubman who played an important role in the Underground Railroad and helped slaves earn their freedom. Before we read let’s talk about some vocabulary words that we are going to encounter. First is the word expedition. An expedition is a journey or voyage carried out by a group of people with a specific purpose, especially that of exploration, scientific research, or war. For example, Louis and Clark were sent on an expedition to explore the western parts of our country by Thomas Jefferson. Another vocabulary word is plantations; a plantation is land on which crops such as coffee, sugar, and tobacco are harvested by labor. For example, many slaves in the south worked on plantations owned by their masters. Finally, we will also study the word debilitating, which means to make someone weak and infirm. An example of using this word in a sentence would be: The debilitating disease kept him from being able to walk or move without help.


5. Okay, not let's look at the first paragraph of our article and start practicing our summarization techniques we learned earlier:


Harriet Tubman is well known for risking her life as a “conductor” in the Underground Railroad, which led escaped slaves to freedom in the North. But did you know that the former slave also served as a spy for the Union during the Civil War and was the first woman in American history to lead a military expedition?


Everyone should be following along and paying attention to how I follow our summarization rules. Let's look at the first sentence: “Harriet Tubman is well known for risking her life as a ‘conductor’ in the Underground Railroad, which led escaped slaves to freedom in the North,” do you think it’s important to know that Harriet Tubman was a conductor in the Underground Railroad? (Discuss.) Yes, that is important; it describes the role she played in the Underground Railroad. (Underline that information.) Let's keep reading: “But did you know that the former slave also served as a spy for the Union during the Civil War and was the first woman in American history to lead a military expedition?” What parts of this sentence are important for me to comprehend this text? I think it’s important to know that she was a spy for the Union and also led a military expedition; so I’ll underline that information too. Let’s move on to the second paragraph and work on that together:


During a time when women were usually restricted to traditional roles like cooking and nursing, she did her share of those jobs. But she also worked side-by-side with men, says writer Tom Allen, who tells her exciting story in the National Geographic book, Harriet Tubman, Secret Agent.


The first sentence informs me what typical women were doing during this time and how Harriet Tubman was different from that, so I’m going to underline that. The second sentence talks about a book by Tom Allen on Harriet Tubman, I don’t think that’s important to the meaning of this text so I’m going to draw a line through that information. We've applied rules 1 and 2 of summarizing to this paragraph so now I'm going to demonstrate how to use rule 3 and create a topic sentence using the important information I picked out. I’ve got that Harriet Tubman was a conductor on the Underground Railroad, led a military expedition, and she did not perform typical roles of a woman, Now I need to make this into a good topic sentence: Harriet Tubman was not the average woman of her time, as she did not spend her time cooking and cleaning, instead Harriet served as a conductor on the Underground Railroad and led a military expedition. Does everyone understand what I just did? Does anyone have any questions?


6. Now you’re going to practice summarizing with the rest of this article. I want you to go through each paragraph and break it down like we just did. Be sure to follow the rules for summarizing and then make a clear topic sentence with your important information. I want you to write a topic sentence for every two paragraphs in the article. You may just copy the sentence that I wrote for the first two paragraphs, and then you will write four more topic sentences on your own. When you’re finished, staple your article to your paper with the topic sentences and turn it in, then you may decorate your bookmark. You will all have time to decorate your bookmark, so please do not speed through the assignment just to have time to color.


Assessment: I will review each student's topic sentences as well as the markings on their articles. I will use the checklist provided above for each student to decide if they understand the rules of and how to summarize. Topic sentences will vary but they should all capture the most important information from every two paragraphs and leave out trivial information.



            -“Harriet Tubman: Civil War Spy” National Geographic Kids


            -“Soaring into Summarizing” by Mary Kathryn Wheeler

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