Summing Up With Seals!

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Reading to Learn Lesson

Caitlin Roebuck


Once students have learned how to read fluently, they can begin to read in order to learn. This lesson will teach students how to use the strategy of summarization to better comprehend and remember important information from a text. This concept is something that students will use every time they read and is, therefore, a major step for third and fourth graders to master. In this lesson, students will work with expository paragraphs and whole texts; they will learn how to find the most significant phrases and facts, using these to summarize the text.


1. List of vocabulary words for review: carnivore, crustacean, submerge, environmentalist, activist, commercially

2. Computer, Elmo/Document Camera/projector, and projector screen for teacher

3. Sheet with paragraph on harp seals to model summarization:

Harp seals are found in waters of the Arctic and far north Atlantic Ocean. They are sociable animals that enjoy the company of other seals. A harp seal’s main diet consists of small fish and crustaceans. The seals have been known to dive 180 to 280 meters and can remain submerged for up to 15 minutes. Their lifespan averages 30 years. Females can birth one pup each year. Mothers recognize their pups by scent and reject every pup but their own. Harp seal mothers let their young nurse for about two weeks and then the pups are left to fend for themselves. Their mother’s milk, however, is rich in butterfat and they usually weigh 40 to 45 kilograms when weaned.

4. Whole text on Harp Seals from National Geographic website (print out 1 article per students)

5. 1 highlighter per student

6. Reading comprehension questions for assessment (1 per student)

7. Bookmark for each student with summarization requirements listed:

a. Pick topic sentence or main idea of text

b. Underline important details

c. Remove unimportant or repeated information

8. Sheet with the sentence, the carnivore chased after the small animal, hoping to catch its prey, written on it

9. 1 piece of paper per student


1. Begin the lesson with an introduction: “Today, we are going to begin discussing how to use reading in order to learn new information. The strategy we will be using is called summarization. This is an important step because now you can use what you’ve learned about reading to learn and remember new facts and ideas. With this summarization strategy, you will read longer paragraphs and learn how to pick out the most important information from the text to store in your memory.”

2. “Before we read our whole text, we are going to review some of the more difficult vocabulary words.” Put the list of vocabulary words on the Doc Cam. “The words we are going to review are: carnivore, crustacean, submerge, environmentalist, activist, and commercially. Now let’s begin by looking at carnivore. What is a carnivore?” Put the sheet with the sentence on the Doc Cam. “Listen to this sentence using the word and think about what it could mean: ‘The carnivore chased after the small animal, hoping to catch its prey.’ Think about what carnivore could mean and turn to discuss it with a partner.” Wait for students to discuss and then call on some students to share their answers. “Alright, there were some good ideas about what a carnivore is. A carnivore is an animal that feeds on meat. It does not feed on plants because that is a different type of animal. When you look back to the sentence, ‘The carnivore chased after the small animal, hoping to catch its prey,’ you can look at some of the surrounding words, like chased and small animal, and see that the definition fits the sentence. Why do you think a carnivore eats meat? What are some examples of carnivores?" Wait for the students to answer. "Good! Now let's try answer another sentence. I want you to read the sentence and fill in the blank: 'The T-Rex is a good example of a __________, as it likes to eat smaller animals.'" Call on a student to answer. " Good job! The T-Rex is a good example of a carnivore. Now let’s continue to discuss some of our other vocabulary words." Follow this example with the other words on the vocabulary list.

3. “When you read a passage and summarize its information, you will read each paragraph at a time and look for the most important facts. You should only use one sentence to summarize each paragraph, combining all of the information into one main statement.” Pass out bookmarks to the students. “This is a bookmark that has some rules for when you are summarizing the text. Look at your bookmark as I read what the rules are.” Read the rules out loud. “Later, you will be reading a text and will need to use these rules to help you summarize the most important information. You will be given a highlighter to highlight the important words and phrases. You will also use your pencil to cross out the unnecessary information, such as repeated words or small details, in the text. This will help you in summarizing the information.”

4. Put the paragraph on harp seals on the Doc Cam. (You will combine your modeling and simple practice with this activity.) “Before you begin to summarize on your own, I am going to show you an example using this paragraph on harp seals.” Read the paragraph aloud to the students. “Now let’s go through and highlight the important words and phrases in the paragraph. You will want to find the information is important to the overall topic of the paragraph, not small details or trivia information.” Call on students to help you highlight words, such as Arctic, sociable animals, fish/crustaceans, etc. “After you find these pieces of information, look at what you highlighted and find your topic sentence. Who can tell me what our topic sentence would be from this paragraph?” Call on students to share their ideas. “Good, the topic sentence would be that seals are sociable creatures that live in the north. Now I am going to lightly cross out the extra information that we didn’t use with a pencil. After I finish going through my paragraph, I would begin writing my brief, one-sentence summary of the text.” Be sure to tell the students that if they were using a longer paragraph, they would need to have a one-sentence summary per paragraph. “Now, I want you to write your one-sentence summary of the text on a piece of paper. Then, you will share your sentence with the class.” Give the students 5 minutes to write their summary and then call on some students to share their sentence with the class.

5. Pass out the harp seal article to the students. “Now it is your turn to read and summarize a text. You will be reading about harp seals. This article shares facts and information about these seals that live in the north. How do they travel around? Why do they look the way they do? Why is there conflict with the harp seal? You will have to read the article to find out. You will work to summarize this article like we just did with the other paragraph. Use the rules listed on your bookmark and find the important information in each sentence. You should also use your highlighter to highlight the important words and phrases, as well as your pencil to lightly cross out the useless information. When you are finished, write a summary of the passage using your article. You should have one sentence per paragraph with only the most important information included.” While the students are completing this activity individually, walk around the classroom to make sure that they are on task.

6. To assess the students’ abilities to summarize the passage, collect their summaries. Look to make sure that they follow the rules of their bookmark. They should:

1. Have a topic sentence for each paragraph

2. Include only the most important details

3. Delete unimportant or repeated details.

To assess the students’ comprehension of the text, pass out a short worksheet with the following “putting it together” questions:

1. How do the harp seals travel around?

2. Why do the seals look the way they do?

3. Why is there conflict with the harp seal?


Canadian Geographic. Animal Facts: Harp Seal.

Kilgore, Katie. Sum It Up!!

Lancaster, Allie. Summarization for the Nation!

National Geographic. Harp Seal.

Pierce, Morgan. Flipping Over Summarization.

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