Simply Summarize!

Reading to Learn

By: Jennifer Bruha


Being able to successfully summarize an informational text allows readers to understand the author’s message without getting bogged down in the nitty-gritty details. Using a highlighter and pen to highlight crucially important information and cross out unnecessary details will allow students to clearly see and easily summarize the author’s message. Setting the goal of writing a one-sentence summary after every paragraph, page, or chapter in an informational text enables students to consciously practice summarizing until it becomes automatic. By listening to an explanation, observing a model, practicing, and answering comprehension questions, students will be able to successfully use this strategy.



-   Pencils (one for each student)

-   Highlighters (one for each student)

-   Individual handouts and transparency (and projector) from Why do Leaves Change Color? by Betsy Maestro

-   Notebook paper

-   Assessment checklist (see below)



1) Introduce – Say: “When you summarize, you find the main idea of the text or passage that you are reading. It is more useful to summarize when you are reading something that is explaining something to you, instead of telling you a story. Summarizing is especially helpful when you have a very long passage to read. If you summarize this long text, you won’t have to worry about the itty-bitty details – you only think about the main idea! That way, we won’t have the extra information that blocks us from the author’s message.”

2) Background knowledge – Say: “Before we read, we are going to go over some new words to learn: chlorophyll, pigment, sumac, tannin, enrich, mineral, foliage. Let’s focus on one of these words: pigment. A pigment is what gives animals and plants their natural colors. A leaf’s pigment is what makes it look green in the summer and red, orange, yellow, or brown in the winter. A pigment is not the actual color – it is just what gives the item its color. Which one of these is more like a pigment: a pink piece of paper or the element that makes our skin pink/tan? Food dye that has turned pancakes green or broccoli? Finish this sentence: The kitten’s skin pigment…”(Possible completion: makes the bottom of her feet pink, makes her skin pink, makes her nose pink, etc.).

3) Explain – Say: “When you summarize a passage, you read a little bit, stop, and then go back and think about and find the most important parts of what you read. You ignore or cross out any information that you don’t need; anything that doesn’t help you understand the main idea. This allows you to focus on the most important parts that the author is trying to tell us. Make it simple – be very picky!”

4) Model – Say: “Take a look at the section #1 on our handouts. I am going to summarize it. I am going to read the entire section. ‘Just a few weeks ago, all the leaves were green. Back in the spring, the tiny new leaves uncurled from their buds. The green color in the leaves helps them to absorb or hold sunlight. Chlorophyll gives the leaves their green coloring. Chlorophyll is a natural coloring called a pigment.’ Ok, that was a lot of information.

5) Simple practice – Say: “Now that we have all seen and understand how to summarize, let’s practice doing it together. We will read it first: ‘Leaves are very important to the tree. They make a kind of sugar that is the tree’s food. Leaves need sunlight, water, and air to make this food. The leaves work to feed the tree all summer long. The sugar is used by all parts of the tree – the leaves, branches, trunk, and roots. The food, or sugar, helps the tree to grow. Extra sugar is stored in the leaves.’ Again, that was a lot of information that we need to summarize to make it easier to get the author’s message.”

6) Practice with whole texts – Say: “We are going to keep practicing summarizing using the book Why do Leaves Change Color? You can tell from its title that this book is all about leaves, including why they change color, what they do for trees, and how they do all their important jobs for trees. For each section on your handout, I want you to highlight important information and cross out unimportant information, and write a one-sentence summary on notebook paper. What things affect trees and leaves? How do they – sun, water, air, pigments, weather, etc. – affect them? How do trees and leaves react? Focus on the main ideas, and don’t worry about the nitty-gritty details!

7) Assessment: I will assess my students’ ability to summarize by collecting their summaries they completed using the whole text Why do Leaves Change Color? I will use this rubric to assess:

When summarizing, did the student…



Delete unimportant information?

Delete repeated information?

Organize items with a big idea?

Select a topic?

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

I will also ask students these comprehension questions: What tells trees to get ready for winter? How do trees get ready for winter? How does less water affect leaves? Once there is less water, why do leaves change colors? Why is the changing color of autumn leaves not the same every year? What do rotting leaves do for the ground?