Let’s Sum It All Up!

Reading to Learn Lesson  Design

 by Abby Williams



Reading Comprehension is one of the most important components to learning how to read. Children not only need to be able to read the words on the page but also to be able to understand what they are reading. A good way to help children learn this is to teach them summarization skills which allow them to retain only the important ideas. During this lesson students will learn how to develop a semantic map and then compile a summary. They will practice summarizing the first chapter in the book, In Their Own Words: Christopher Columbus.



In Their Own Words: Christopher Columbus, by Peter and Connie Roop (1 copy per student)

Butcher paper




Checklist:              included the main points            (yes/no)

       deleted any small details            (yes/no)

       combined repeated ideas          (yes/no)



1.) Begin by explaining to students the importance of understanding what we read. Point out to students that good readers are not only fluent, but also comprehend or understand what they read. “In order to understand what you read, we are going to learn to use a strategy called summarization which helps us pick out the important parts of the text.”

2.) “Today we are going to begin reading a book called In Their Own Words: Christopher Columbus.” Give brief book talk to get them interested. “This book is about a brave explorer named Christopher Columbus who changed the world forever! In 1492, Columbus sailed across the Atlantic Ocean in search of India. What he found was something far different! What did he find? You’ll have to read to find out!”

3.) Ask students, “Does anyone know what a summary is?  Well, a summary is a basic description of the plot and characters in a story.  Writing summaries is a great way to help you remember things about what you have read. I want each of you to get out your book and read chapter 1 silently at our desk. This means that you should not read out loud or talk to those around you. I want you to read to yourself and really pay close attention to the main points of what you read. As you read the first chapter, I want you to write down some things that you think are the most important details about what is going on in the story.  For example, I might write down where the story is taking place, who the main character is, what is going on, etc. When you summarize you want to find the main points, delete any small details, and combine repeated ideas. These are the three key points of summarization.”

4.) As students begin to read chapter 1 silently, put up butcher paper on board to draw out a semantic map. When all students finish reading, explain the concept of semantic mapping and how we use this strategy to help us summarize. “We are now going to use this semantic map to sum up the first chapter we read. I am going to show you how to create a semantic map on the board, and I want you to create a semantic map on your own paper along with me. I have one large circle in the middle with “Christopher Columbus: Ch. 1” written in the center. I am now going to draw smaller circles out from the big circle and attach them to the big circle. In each of the smaller circles, I am going to write out an important fact. What was something that one of you wrote as you were reading? Yes, the main character is Christopher Columbus. Great! And he was born in Italy… Wonderful! Did anyone else come up with any other important details that we could put in a smaller circle?” Complete the semantic map on the board as a class, while students create the semantic map on their paper as well. This will be a good model for them to look back on when they create semantic map on their own for later chapters.

5.) Next explain to students, “Next we are going to use the semantic map we created to ‘sum up’ chapter one in a few sentences.” Model how to use the important details in the map to create a brief summarization consisting of a few sentences. “When we summarize there are three important points to remember: When you summarize you want to find the main points, delete any small details, and combine repeated ideas”. Remind students to focus on using the information they put in the circles on the story map within their summary. Have students contribute to this summary by volunteering what they think is important or saying what they think is not important (trivial information).Write the summary on the board as students write it on their own paper for them to use as a model for later summaries. Make sure all students are following along and understand the steps of semantic mapping and ‘summing up’.

6.) Next have the students read the second chapter of In Their Own Words: Christopher Columbus silently. Instruct them to make up a semantic map for the second chapter individually, using the same process that we practiced together. Explain that they must create both a semantic map and then compose a summary in paragraph form (three to five sentences long).

7.) Assessment: Collect students’ papers (with semantic maps and summarizations) and check to make sure children have grasped concept of summarization. Check for center circle for general idea or topic, and main points connected to the circle and also a brief summary in paragraph form. Use a checklist as a guide (included the main points, deleted any small details, and combined repeated ideas).



Roop, Peter and Connie.  In Their Own Words: Christopher Columbus.  Scholastic,  2000.

Oglesby, Kara. “Fun with Summarizing”. http://www.auburn.edu/rdggenie/openings/oglesbyrl.html.

Pressley, Michael. “Strategies That Improve Children's Memory and Comprehension of Text” The Elementary School Journal. Volume 90, Number1. 1989.

Willoughby, Misti. “Summing it all up in a Nutshell”.


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