What Was THAT All About?




by Hope McClanahan

Reading to Learn Lesson Design



            As children approach the late elementary school years, comprehension becomes a very important skill for them to acquire.  Children are expected to remember information that they read, especially from an expository text.  In order for children to be able to recall the main points of something they have read, they must be able to summarize the information.  However, until students are provided instruction on how to construct summaries, this is very difficult for them.  By teaching children how to delete trivial and redundant information, superordinate items and events, and either find or create a topic sentence that covers the main idea of the story, we can help children to better remember information that they read.





  1. Begin by saying “Today we are going to be doing some silent reading.  Before we start, we need to review how we read silently.  I have an article right here that I need to read to myself.  I am going to read it silently.”  Model how to read silently for the children.  Over-dramatize your eyes moving from word to word.  Your mouth can even make motions of reading the words without making any sound.  After you have read for a couple of minutes, ask the students, “Who remembers some important rules for reading silently?  Let’s list these rules on the board.” (Let the children suggest rules like: We should not be talking to anyone around us, we should look at every word and say it to ourselves as we read, we should not say words out loud so that we won’t disturb our neighbor, etc.)  “Good!  These are all great things to remember when we are having silent reading time.”
  2. Introduce the lesson by explaining what it means to summarize what we read.  Say, “Today we are going to talk about how important it is to understand what we read.  If we read something and we don’t understand it, then we won’t be able to apply it to our own lives.  A good way for us to understand something that we read is to summarize the text after we read it.  To summarize a story means to pick out the main idea of a story, so that we can remember and understand the information easier.  Sometimes stories have a lot of information in them, and only some of that information—the most important details—help us to understand the story.  Today we are going to learn some rules to help us summarize a story.”
  3. Explain to the children, “There are 3 steps that help us to summarize information when we read.  I have written these steps on the board.”

1)     Delete information that is not important or is repeated.

2)     If there are lists of items or events, think of one main heading or word for this information, instead of listing each item or event.

3)     Find a topic sentence that covers the main idea of the story, and if there is not a topic sentence, create one.

  1. Hand out copies of Snake Safari to the children.  Say, “A great way to help us organize this information when we are reading a story is to make a map. Today, we are going to read the article Snake Safari to ourselves, and then we are going to work as a class to create a map to explain the main ideas of this article.  I want each of you to read this article to yourself silently.  When you are finished, you can begin discussing with your neighbor what the article was about.”
  2. Once everyone seems to have finished reading, say to the children, “Now let’s make a map to help us summarize this article.  When we make a summary map, we put the main topic, which is usually found in the title of the story, in a circle in the middle of our paper.  Who can tell me what the topic of our article is?  That’s right, snakes!  So we are going to write the word snakes in our topic circle.  (Write this on the board.)
  3. Now that we know our topic, we will draw antennas from our circle to describe different important facts that the article told us about snakes.  Remember, though, that when we are thinking of these details, our rules tell us that we don’t need to include information that is not important.  So, if I was thinking of a detail to include, I might write something like Cobras are the longest snakes.  They are venomous.  (Write this on the board as a line coming out from the main idea circle.) The beginning of the article spends several paragraphs discussing cobras, so this is obviously an important fact from the article.  Can anyone think of an example of something that would not be important information to include in our summary map?  You’re right!  It is not important that the author did not want the snake to bite him.  So we would not include that as an antenna on our map.”
  4. Tell the children, “I want you to try to finish this summary map on your own.  Think of the important details of the story, and try to think of one or two words that can replace lists of words or events.  Once you have completed your map, think of a topic sentence that will cover the main idea of the information in the map.  When you have your map and topic sentence complete, it should be easy for you to write a summary of this article.  You should be able to use the topic sentence and the detail sentences that you have listed to write a short summary that would tell someone who had not read this article what it is about.” 
  5. Tell the children that when they are finished with their summaries, they need to take out a book for silent reading time.  Explain to them that you will be calling them up in groups to talk about their summaries.  For assessment, call different groups of children up to have a conference about their summaries.  Have them each read what they have written, and use the following rubric to analyze how well the summary has been written:


1) Deleted unimportant or repeated information                                            yes               no


2) Replaced lists or words of events with a main heading or word             yes               no


3) Found or created a topic sentence                                                              yes                no                                         


Rom Whitaker.  Snake Safari.  National Geographic News Online 



Pressley, M., Johnson, C. J.,  Symons, S.,  McGoldrick, J. A., and Kurita, J.A. (1989).   Strategies that Improve     Children’s Memory and Comprehension of Text.  The Elementary School Journal.  90(1), 3-32.


Wheeler, Emily. To Sum it all Up…


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