Summarization Scientists

Reading to Learn

By Brantley Cole


Rationale: The ability to comprehend text and the ability to summarize text go hand-in-hand.  In order to summarize a text, one must first be able to comprehend the text. In order to become skillful readers, students must be able to find key points and main ideas throughout a story. This lesson will help students learn to separate key points and main ideas from unneeded information using specific guidelines. They will use the information that they determine "important" to construct a short and to-the-point summary.


Materials: Pencil, paper, highlighter, red colored pencil, chalk, chalkboard, passage example on smartboard (students will have a printed copy of the passage), class copies of "Fossil Finder" article from National Wildlife Federation, class copies of "When Giants Go Mini" by the National Geographic Society, copies of excerpt from Magic Tree House Fact Finder: Sabertooths and the Ice Age, and summarization checklist (1per student):

Did the student…



Delete unimportant information?

Delete repeated information?

Organize items under one umbrella term?

Select a topic?

Write an inclusive yet simple topic sentence to summarize the passage?




1.     Teacher says: "Today we are going to talk about the importance of learning to summarize what we read. Who can tell me what it means to summarize? Great! Summarizing is when we pick out the important information from a text and retell it in our own words.  When you summarize an article or a book you are retelling the story but are focusing on the main ideas and leaving out the unimportant details. Today we are going to practice summarizing by reading some interesting articles about some fun topics!"


2.     Say: "One of the most important things to remember when reading is to listen for any words that we might not already know. Lots of times the unfamiliar words are the ones that are most important, so we need to pay close attention to them! When we know what words to listen to ahead of time it makes it much easier to pay attention to what information is important, so before we start reading we are going to take a few minutes to talk about important words we are going to see in our passage."


I will introduce several words that will be found in our corresponding texts (fossils, paleontologist, primitive, etc.): "Our passage is titled 'Fossil Finder.' Who can tell me something they know about fossils? (they are old; come from plants or animals; scientists study them; etc.)Good! Fossils are remains of plants or animals from long ago that have been preserved over many years. Would a fossil be of an animal that lived hundreds of years ago? Or would a fossil be of an animal that lived only a few years ago? Right, a fossil would be of an animal that lived hundreds of years ago. Scientists have used fossils to learn about animals that lived so long ago that we didn't even know they existed! Now let's see how we would use the word fossil in a sentence: Scientists study fossils to learn about the different kinds of dinosaurs that lived long ago. Now that we've learned what fossils are, let's talk about some other words you're going to see while reading." (Introduce more words in the same style).


3.     Say: "Before you practice summarizing on your own, I am going to model how an expert reader gets rid of unnecessary information. If you aren't sure whether or not a sentence (or part of a sentence) is important, ask yourself questions like 'does this tell me what the article is about?', 'does it tell me something that I need to know about the topic in order to understand it?' If you answer 'no' to those questions, then this is unimportant information- you should cross through it. On the other hand, if you answer 'yes' to these questions, it is important! Highlight it so you will know to come back to it as you write your summary. Now read along with me from the smartboard as I read "When Giants Go Mini," which is an article about the interesting information scientists discovered by studying fossils. Notice how I ask myself questions, then highlight my important information and cross out my unimportant information as I read. (use smartboard tools to demonstrate) [Read article, highlight/cross out info.] Now that I've separated the important information from the unimportant information, it's time to summarize. I'm simply going to go back through the information I highlighted, then simplify and put it in my own words." (I will have the class help me rewrite the important information by answering questions such as 'What is the topic of the article? Who is it about? What is happening?')


4.      Say: "Now it's your turn! I am going to show you a passage on the smartboard. I will give each of you a copy, and I want you to read it silently to yourself as I read it aloud. I want you to take out a red colored pencil as I pass out highlighters; as I read the passage on the board aloud I want you to highlight the important information and use your red colored pencil to cross out any information that we don't need. Remember to watch for any important vocabulary." After reading the passage aloud the teacher will ask questions such as: What did you highlight in this passage? What ideas were important? What information did you cross out? Did you highlight or cross out more information? (Discuss as a class)


5.     Say: "Now that we've practiced summarizing together I want you to try it on your own. I am going to give each of you few pages from Magic Tree House Fact Tracker: Sabertooths and the Ice Age. This is a fun story about Jack and Annie's adventure to find out more about the Ice Age! They set out to answer questions like "what were animals from long ago like?" And "what happened to them?" We will read to see what Jack and Annie learn and how fossils help them in their quest for information! I want you to read silently to yourself and pay close attention as you read. Remember what we've learned about summarizing: Cross out any unnecessary information with your colored pencil and highlight main ideas with your highlighter. At the end of each page find a good stopping place and jot down a few points that summarize that page alone. When you are finished reading completely, look back at what you've written and use it to write a few sentences that summarize what you read as a whole. Be sure not to copy sentences from the text- put your sentences in your own words! And don't forget to listen for the vocabulary we've discussed! (The teacher will pass out the class copies of an excerpt from Magic Tree House Fact Tracker: Sabertooths and the Ice Age. The teacher will give students 15-20 minutes to read and summarize the article).


6.   Say: "Now that you've all had time to write your summary let's take a few minutes to share! (I will circulate the room as students are working to monitor their progress; I will select students to share whose summaries will be good examples for the rest of the class. After we hear a few examples and quickly review the keys to summarizing I will give students a few minutes to revise their summaries in case they left out any necessary information or in case they need to omit anything. Then I will take up their summaries. I will assess their understanding of the concept using a checklist.)





"Fossil Finder" article was written by the National Wildlife Federation and can be found at:


Lesson Design Model- "Summarization is a Piece of Cake" by Mery McMillan:


Boyce, Natalie Pope, and Osborne, Mary Pope. Magic Tree House Fact Finder: Sabertooths and the Ice Age. New York: Random House Children's Books, 2005.


"When Giants Go Mini" article was written by the National Geographic Society and can be found at:

Return to Doorways