How To Help Your Students Become Awesome Summarizers!

With the start of  new school year and having students share their chapter summaries,  I decided I needed to explicitly teach my fifth graders how to summarize using the chapters in our novel, “Blood on the River”.  It’s an historical fiction novel about the founding of Jamestown.  Just an FYI,  it’s a great way to incorporate our Social Studies as we study early America.

In the past, won’t lie, I have sort of “guessed and by golly”‘d my way through summarizing.  It is not one of my stronger skills as a teacher.  Partly, I think, because it always seemed so subjective to me.  Well, last week I took the bull by the horns  and began to teach summarizing directly.

My students had summarized chapter 6 of the book as part of their homework.  It became very apparent quickly, that summarizing was needed to be taught explicitly.

As a teacher of 24 years, I am still tickled when my brain pulls out an idea that wasn’t part of my lesson!!!  After all the summaries were read, I went to the board and wrote:

Chapter 6 High Points

Then, as a class, I asked my students to review the chapter with a partner and come up with only six events or ideas that seemed to be very important.  I purposely avoided the words “main idea”.  That term always seemed to make students think there’s only one right answer.  Noooooo….not always!

As partners reported their “high points“,  many were simply supporting details, so as the students shared their ideas, I took their ideas and jotted them on the board.  Together, I helped them “see” the bigger picture of all their ideas. We worked together to put similar ideas into a more general sentence.

For example, in Ch. 6, there is a battle between a whale, thresher shark, and a swordfish that is observed by Captain Smith and Samuel, the main character.  All the students mentioned the battle as an important event, which it was, but the comment from Capt. Smith to Samuel was that no matter how big and powerful you think you are,  the less powerful can work together and bring you down!  That comment helped my kids see that high points in a chapter can be more than just an event.

After the kids and I wrote the six high points together, I had them use those points to create another summary in their reading journals.  I had them compare their first summary with the summary they had just written. The summaries were sooooo much more on point and the kids even remarked at the differences they saw.

It wasn’t me telling the kids what the high points or main ideas were, but all of us working together.  I did the same lesson two chapters later and the summaries showed more depth of thought and relied less on actual events of the chapter.

Give it a try and let me know if your students’ summaries have show growth as you work together!


If you’d like to check out this fabulous novel and the  vocabulary activities and discussion questions I use with my students, just click Blood on the River



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