Ready, Set, Summarize!

Reading to Learn

Shannon McDevitt


Rationale: When attempting to acquire new information, one of the first skills we often use is reading. Just as the process of reading took a long time to develop, so does the process of finding important information. Summarizing is a skill that all beginning readers need to practice in order to be successful in reading comprehension. Once readers can identify the main points of an article, they become a more accurate researcher, writer and reader. During this lesson, students will get the opportunity to dissect a number of articles in attempt to find the main points. Through these practices, the students will gain experience in summarization and eventually, be able to summarize an article simply by reading it once.



o   Pencils (one for every student)

o   Paper

o   Class set of yellow highlighters

o   Class set of red highlighters

o   Summarization Activity Checklist:

            _____ I have written my topic sentence.

            _____ I have found supporting details to help answer the question.

            _____ I have removed unimportant information by crossing it out.

            _____ I have removed repeated ideas.

            _____ I have written a 3-5 sentence summary.

o   Individual Rubrics

o   Why Are Skunks Black and White Transparency for demonstration

o   Individual Hand Outs for

§  Why Are Skunks Black and White

§  Why Are Mosquitoes So Annoying



1.  Introduce Summarizing. SAY: Today, our lesson is going to be about summarizing. Who can remind me what summarize means? Very good! To summarize means to find the most important information in an article. In order to find this important information, what are some things we might have to do? Yes, we need to get rid of all the information that does not really help us answer the overall question. Our lesson today will help you become master summarizers!


2.  Hand out “Summarization Checklist.” SAY: What I am passing out is something I like to call a ‘Summarization Checklist.’ This piece of paper has all the steps listed in order to help me summarize while I read. In order to become a good summarizer, we must first know what our summary is going to be about. The first step is to find the main idea in a reading passage and develop a topic sentence. Once I create a topic sentence, I can put a check mark on that line to help me keep track of what I have done. Next, it is important to provide enough detail when summarizing an article. Our next step is to read through the article and find the supporting, or helpful, details. That being said, we also need to be pay attention to the unimportant details that are not absolutely necessary to include in our summary. It is easiest to mark through these unimportant details. Sometimes articles will state the same idea multiple times. It is important that we recognize why the importance of that detail, because often times they are crucial, but once we have seen it once, we don’t need to see it again. After you have found your supporting details and eliminate unimportant or repeated details, you can begin to write your summary. A summary is a brief overview of what you have just read. This means it needs to stay short. Be sure not to copy word for word what was stated in the article, but to create a summary using your own words as much as you can.


3.  Three Rules of Thumb: SAY:” As you can see, from your summarization checklist, there are really only three rules of thumb that you need to remember when you are summarizing. The first rule of thumb is to find the important details that will help you write your summary. The second rule of thumb is to eliminate the unnecessary and unrelated details that you believe will not help you summarize. Last but not least, you need to organize your ideas in a thoughtful way beginning with your topic sentence and continuing with the supporting details you found earlier. If you can stick to these three rules, summarizing will be a breeze!


4.  Hand out copies of Why Are Skunks Black and White? SAY: I am handing out an article titled, Why Are Skunks Black and White? Before we begin, does anyone have any idea why they might be? Well we are going to find out in a second, but first, there are a few vocabulary words that we might need to know before reading this passage. The first word is “disguise”. Does anyone know what “disguise” means? Let’s try and use context clues to figure out the meaning of the word. Everyone look at the very first sentence of the whole passage. It says, “You’d think that any animal as stinky as a skunk would want to slink away in shame and disguise itself, but the exact opposite is true.” Disguise itself, if we try to disguise ourselves, do you think we are trying to draw attention to ourselves or kind of hide so no one knows who we are? Right! Disguise means to make unrecognizable. So to disguise means to mask or hide, kind of like camouflage. It does not mean recognizable or out in the open. So would someone dressed as a bunny in disguise or would your mom be in disguise? Great! Someone dressed in a bunny because you wouldn’t be able to tell whom it was. Help me finish this sentence; I like to dress in disguise… Very good! I think we all like to dress in disguise on Halloween! So now that we know that skunks do not need to disguise themselves, lets find out why they are black and white!


            Other words to be taught: predators, enemies, foul, musk


5.  Read the article aloud to the class. SAY: Now that we know why skunks are black and white, let’s think about how we would summarize this passage. Well, first, what is this article talking about? Skunks, very good! So we know that skunks are our main idea, skunks needs to be highlighted yellow because it is important. Now let’s find some important details that help us answer the question, why are skunks black and white? Let’s look at the second paragraph. We need to see what it is the author is saying about skunks. Therefore, we need to look for key details and action words that will help us reach our conclusion.


Skunks, on the other hand, are a whole different matter--they have no need to fear predators because predators are too busy fearing them! And the skunk's distinctive black and white colors ensure that potential enemies make no mistake about who they're messin' with. A skunk literally raises a BIG stink when defending itself--it sprays foul-smelling liquid musk from the scent glands under its tail. As if the odor weren't bad enough, the oil can sting predators on impact. In most cases, a confrontation doesn't even reach this point because the flash of a skunk's bright black and white pattern is enough of a warning!”


          Let’s begin by highlighting with yellow some of the words or ideas that we see a lot of. I see the word skunk and predators a lot; these must be important. Now I need to find out why they are important, so I must look at the verbs the author uses. As I am highlighting these words in        red, I am noticing that the skunk is feared by many animals. Becausemany animals fear them, they don’t have to hide from other animals. I think that’s why they are black and white!  Now I need to reread the paragraph and cross out the things that are not important. These include descriptions, repeated topics, and extra information that takes away from the main point of the article. We can really cross out the first sentence because it does not answer why skunks are these colors. In the next sentence, we can cross out distinctive because that is just describing the colors of the skunk. The rest of the sentence is important to keep because it tells us why skunks benefit from being black and white. We can eliminate the words ‘literally’ and ‘big’ because they are not crucial to this topic. The next sentence however, tells how the skunk          defends itself. The rest of the information is really trivial and can crossed out because it does not really relate to the skunk’s color. What we know is that the black and white of a skunk is a warning to other animals. From this paragraph alone, we’ve summarized that the skunk’s black and white colors ensure that enemies make no mistake about who they’re messin’ with. A skunk raises a stink when defending itself and    sprays liquid musk, an oil that can sting predators. The flash of a skunk’s colors warns animals to stay away. See how easy summarizing is!? Now, try and finish the article on your own!


After giving the students time to summarize, inform them that we must look for a topic sentence. SAY: Now that we have all of our important information, what will our topic sentence be? Remember, the topic sentence includes the main idea of the passage. We’ve learned that skunks are black and white because they do not need to disguise themselves from other animals. My topic sentence could be: “Skunks are black and white because rather than fearing other animals, most animals fear them. “ Continue writing the summary with the students, looking for supporting details and excluding any unnecessary information. Once finished, review the summary with the students by using the summarization checklist. SAY: Now that we are finished with our summary, let’s go back and check if we have all the necessary components for a good summary. Let’s see, do I have a topic sentence? Did I include supporting details? Did I get rid of unimportant information? Is my summary 3-5 sentences? Well done! We have a wonderful summary!


6.  Pass out handouts of Why Are Mosquitoes So Annoying? SAY: Now that we have practice summarizing an article together, I want you to try on your own! This article is about those annoying bugs that always leave us itchy! Who knows which insect I’m talking about? Great job, mosquitoes! Let’s find out why mosquitoes are so annoying! Don’t forget, while you are reading don’t be afraid to look back at your summarization checklist for steps to help you summarize.



To assess the students on the process of summarizing, I will ask them to turn in their copy of the passage and examine it to see if they have picked out and crossed out the correct details. I will read over their summaries as if I did not know the answer. The students will be graded using this rubric:


When summarizing, did the student:



Construct a simple, topic sentence answering the question?



Delete unimportant information?



Include supporting details?



Delete repeated information?



Organize summary with big idea?





Discovery Kids, Why Are Skunks Black and White?,


Discovery Kids, Why Are Mosquitoes So Annoying?,


Summarization Invasion by Katherine Crum,


 Return to Rendezvous Index.