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What’s Important?

Katheryn Frey
Reading to Learn

The goal of reading is the comprehension of text. In order to comprehend, children need to be able to remember what the text is about by picking out the important information and omitting irrelevant information. This filtering, or summarization, allows students to understand and recall the important information after reading.  Summarization must be systematically taught in order to help students understand and remember what they read.


 “Lewis and Clark”
(printed out- enough for all lesson participants)

notebook paper


checklist for assessment of summarization rules (written on poster board) :

 1.  Deleted redundant information   ___
 2.  Found and used keyword terms  ___
 3.  Created and used topic sentence ___
 4.  Took out unneeded information ___


1. Ask students, “Have you ever read something and then, after reading it, realized that you did not understand or remember what you’d just read? It is important that we understand what we read. Otherwise, what is the point? If we didn’t remember what we read, it would have been a waste of time.  One way we can help ourselves to remember what we read is through using a strategy called summarization, which helps us to identify the main ideas in a passage.  Today, we are going to learn how to summarize using a passage about

2. Introduce the "Lewis and Clark" passage to the children.  “This passage is about two of America’s most famous explorers.”  Have the students read the text silently. Allow those who finish early to draw a picture about what they just read on the back of the paper.

3. After silent reading, the class will have a question and answer time to help them understand the necessity of remembering the main ideas.  Ask a few questions that are important about Lewis and Clark ("Where did Lewis and Clark Explore?", “Which president sent them on their exploration?” “What was their exploration called?”) and some that aren’t relevant as well ("When were Lewis and Clark born?", “What did Lewis and Clark each do after their exploring days?”).

 4. Explain that there is no way we can remember every detail, so that is why we need to summarize our readings to remember the most important information.  Model summarizing one part of the passage about "Lewis and Clark”.  (Show the students checklist with the four summarization rules listed).  “There are four rules that can help us summarize what we read.  Let's go through them:  1) Take out parts of the passage that would not change the main idea if it were left out.   For example, the dates of birth of the Lewis and Clark are not important to understanding their exploration.  2) Take out redundant information, or information that repeats itself.  This is a fairly short passage and nothing really repeats itself, but lets pretend the passage said, ‘Lewis and Clark’s journey out West was dangerous. The expedition into the unknown was extremely perilous.’  Those two sentences really mean the same thing, don’t they? So they are redundant. We can get one idea from both of those sentences: their expedition was dangerous. 3) Find a keyword that can represent a list of items. Do we see any sort of a list in this text? We don’t have one here. Sometimes you won’t have lists. But here is an example. Instead of saying ‘Jason liked sweet tarts, taffy, jawbreakers, chocolate bars, and jelly beans.’ We could say ‘Jason liked various types of candies.’ 4) Select a topic sentence.  For example, Lewis and Clark, under president Thomas Jefferson, embarked on an expedition, called the Corps of Discovery to explore the American West.

5. I will divide the class into partner groups.  They will read the "Lewis and Clark" passage again, following the summarization rules.  The groups will be responsible for coming up a summarizing sentence about the passage.  They will also compile a list of things in the passage that aren’t as important to the main idea. I will have each group come up and share their work with the class.  Then, we will compare it in the groups to see how their summaries and lists compared to those of their peers.

 6. Assessment: Give the students a passage to read and have them summarize it on notebook paper.   Uses the checklist containing the summarization steps (above) and check off each step as it is applied. Inform the students that if the step cannot be applied, the simply need to write so and explain why on their paper.


“What’s the Main Idea?” by Mariel D. Hall

America’s Library “Lewis and Clark” website

Pressley, M., Johnson, C., McGoldrick, J., and Kurita, J.  (1989).   "Strategies that Improve Children's Memory and Comprehension of Text."   The Elementary School Journal v. 90, no. 1, pp. 4-9.


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