Summarizing with "Read, Write and, er, Why?"


Reading to Learn

Dani Rosener




The driving force behind reading is comprehension. One particular skill that assists in accomplishing this goal is summarization. Once students can recall and communicate the main ideas of the selections read, comprehension becomes easier, as they gain practice in the skill of plucking out the most important information from their reading.  In this lesson students will use summarization tips to help them identify and communicate main ideas and summarize an expository text by following summarization tips during a reading. In this case, a non-fiction article "The Star-Spangled Banner" from


One bookmark per student with summarization tips on it:

1. Pick out important facts supported from the text.

2. Omit information that is not essential to the main topic. 

3. Leave out repeated/redundant ideas

4. Choose a topic sentence that relates to the main idea.  If there is not one, make one of your own based on your supported details from the text.


A transparency of the article, or a document camera to display the article

Copies of the article can be found at: Smithsonian Kids:

Access to a computer or additional articles for each student

Pencil and highlighter




1.  Who can tell me what our goal of reading is?  To memorize what we read or to understand it?  That's right- we read to understand, or comprehend what it is the author is trying to tell us!  One way we can read with comprehension is to summarize the texts that we read.  When we do this, we are taking the most important ideas from the selections and tie it to the main point. 

 2. We see on our bookmarks that it says to choose the most important ideas from the article.  Using a highlighter, we can pick out the main points from what we read.  On the other hand, there are some ideas that are not as important, so we will cross those out with a pencil, as well as any statements that seem to repeat themselves.

3.  Now that we know to have our main ideas highlighted, and our extraneous, or unnecessary ideas crossed out, we will need to sum up the supporting details in a topic sentence, just like our bookmarkers tell us to. 

4.  So let's find out what we are reading about today.  We are reading about the importance of the American Flag during the War of Independence.  Everyone look at your article and let's read it together and use some of the skills we can use to understand this article. 

5. I will read the first paragraph out loud (display the article for a visual reference). Listen to how I chose the most important parts of the passage, and listen for how I ask myself if the detail is important or not:

"The American flag did not play a major role in the War of Independence. Most of the myths about the flag's importance during the Revolution--including the famous tale of Betsy Ross sewing the first flag for General Washington--emerged much later, after the Star-Spangled Banner had become the nation's most significant and cherished icon. At the time the American flag was created, it did not attract much attention from the general public; its primary function was to identify ships and forts. Ordinary Americans in the Revolutionary era turned to a variety of other symbols--the eagle, Lady liberty, George Washington-- to express their patriotism and define their national identity."              

-Smithsonian National Museum of American History

Unlike we most people think, the American flag did not play such an important role in the War of Independence.   I think that may be an important idea, since the paragraph begins with that statement. I will highlight that one.  "At the time, the American flag was created��� it did not attract much attention."  Is that redundant?  I think that statement is said in the first line.  Can I omit that?  I think so- I am going to cross that out with my pencil.  What about "Its primary function was to identify ships and forts?"  I think that is a significant fact, so I had better highlight that.  It says here in the last sentence that there were other symbols people used to express their patriotism.  Do I think that is important?  I think so. So basically, I have these supporting ideas:  1) The American flag and its myths did not play so much of an important role in the War of Independence as previously thought.  2) In fact, it was mainly used for identification of American ships and forts.  3) Many symbols were in fact used during the time of the war.  Why?  We found out from the text that it was to express their patriotism.  These are my main ideas.  What does our bookmarker say to do next?

6.  Yes, that's right.  We need to sum it up in a topic sentence.  Could we say, in general, there were many American symbols as well as the American Flag used during War of Independence?  I think that is a general statement that can be supported by our facts in the text.  Let's write that down on our paper.

7.  After modeling the first paragraph, I would have the students continue throughout the article, then write a short summary telling what the article is about. Of course, I could read my example out loud, as well as anyone else who would like to share, so long as they followed the guidelines of summarizing for comprehension. 

8. Once finished, ask a few comprehension questions such as:

"If the American flag wasn't that important during the war, why did they use it later?  What did it mean afterward?" and "Why are symbols of liberty inspiring to everyday Americans of the present?"

9.  Now it is your turn to challenge yourself.  Reading expository, or non-fiction articles and books is challenging because you have to "sift out" the important details from the extra details.  I think you have a good idea about what to do, but of course, if you get confused, follow your bookmark as a reference.  For homework, I would like for you to find an article much like the one we read in class today on, print it out, and bring it to class tomorrow.

10.  (Next day) Now that you have your article, read it to yourself silently and practice using your summarization tips. Remember to highlight, cross-out, or underline. When you are finished, write a short paragraph summarizing the article in your own words. Use your bookmark checklist for reference.  Also, ask yourself "Why" when choosing your main ideas. (review strategy with the example). 


Have the students turn in the article and the summary. Check the article to see if they highlighted key points, underlined the main idea, and crossed-out unimportant details. Check that the summary has main ideas to determine if they understood what the main points of the article were based on their choice of main ideas, and topic sentence.   


The Star Spangled Banner:

"Summarize with Cow Pies" by Julie Mason

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