Often teachers assume that summarizing is the same for both writing and reading. However, the purpose and task of summarizing is considerably different for these literary activities. Whereas the purpose of a writing summary is to identify the main or controlling idea or argument with supporting major details to put the thrust of exposition into a nutshell, the purpose of a reading summary is to build comprehension. This article focuses on reader-generated summarizing as a means of building reading comprehension.
Now to make sure we are on the same page, we are not discussing reading a summary or abstract prior to reading a textbook chapter or article. This is an important means of building prior knowledge and a critical component of any good read-study method. My own PQ RAR read-study method emphasizes the importance of reading any available summaries prior to reading the text.
Instead, we are discussing why summarizing while reading is important and how to teach your students to do so.
First, the why. Reading research has consistently shown a statistically significant correlation between high levels of reading comprehension and high levels of active engagement with text and, conversely, low comprehension with low engagement. We call this engagement internal monitoring. Numerous studies have confirmed that “retrieving relevant knowledge during reading is essential for monitoring” (Otero & Kintsch, 1992; Vosniadou, Pearson, & Rogers, 1988). One important component of monitoring is summarizing.
A great way to demonstrate this internal monitoring is with a reader-author dialog. Try this think-aloud with your students to model what goes on inside a good reader’s head as the reader monitors text.
But what about summarizing, specifically?
“Summarizing and reviewing integrate and reinforce the learning of major points…these structuring elements not only facilitate memory for the information but allow for its apprehension as an integrative whole with recognition of the relationships between parts” (J. E. Brophy and T. L. Good, 1986).
“In a synthesis of the research on summarizing, Rosenshine and his colleagues found that strategies that emphasize the analytic aspect of summarizing have a powerful effect on how well students summarize” (1996).
Next, the how. Internal monitoring is more efficiently “taught,” rather than just “caught.” Readers can be taught to summarize while reading by learning and practicing cueing strategies. Cueing strategies are simply prompts to focus the reader on the active and analytical tasks of reading.
Poor readers tend to view reading as a passive activity. The cueing strategies provide readers a set of tasks to perform while reading to maintain active dialogue with what the author says and means. The author of this article has developed five cueing strategies, using the SCRIP acronym, which work equally well with expository and narrative text. The SCRIP acronym stands for Summarize, Connect, Re-think, Interpret, and Predict. Here is a nice set of SCRIP Bookmarks for you to download, print, and distribute to your students.
Take the time to explicitly teach and model each of the five strategies. Emphasize one strategy at a time on a given text. Since Summarize is the focus of this article, let’s begin with a teaching script to teach this strategy.
Summarize to Increase Comprehension
“Summarize means to put together the main ideas and important details of a reading into a short-version of what the author has said. A summary can be of an entire reading, but it is more useful to divide your reading up into sections and summarize each section as you read.”
“Today we are going to learn why it is important to pause your reading at certain places and summarize sections of what you have just read and then we will learn how to do this.”
“First, the why. I know that pausing to summarize in the middle of your reading takes a bit more time than just reading without pausing, not too much. You also might be worried that you might lose your concentration if you pause, but actually pausing to summarize will help you concentrate even more. Dividing your reading into sections will help you focus on understanding and remembering smaller chunks of reading, one at a time. You will also be able to remember each chunk of reading and apply your memory to the next reading section. It’s like playing a leveled video game: First, you master one level and the game pauses before you move on to the next level with new graphics, characters, or problems to solve. You use your summarized knowledge of how to beat the first level to help you master each following level, one at a time. After time you will be able to master most or all of the game. In the same way reading in sections and then summarizing will build your undertanding of the whole reading.”
“Next, the how. As you know already, authors use paragraphs in articles or textbooks built upon the main idea known as the topic sentence. Most, but not all of the time, the topic sentence is the first sentence of the paragraph. In stories, authors start new paragraphs to signal something different in setting, plot, description, or dialog.”
“Paragraphs connect to each other to continue a certain idea or plot event. When a major change takes place, the author frequently uses transition words to tell the reader that something new is being introduced. Textbooks often use boldfaced subtitles to signal new sections. When the reading begins a new section, pause to summarize what you just read in the last chunk of reading.”
“For articles or textbooks use What, How, and Why as question-starters to help you put into your own words a short version of what you just read. For stories use Who, What, Where, When, and Why question-starters to help you do the same.
“Let’s take a look at a fairytale that many of you will have read or heard about and practice how to divide a reading up into sections and summarize as we read.”
Here is a one-page version of “The Little Boy Who Cried Wolf” for you to download, print, and distribute to your students. Have students read each section and complete the summary. Then discuss why the section was a good chunk after which to pause and summarize and have students read their summaries. Coach as to what to and what not to include in reading summaries from your student examples. Check out a YouTube video demonstration of the Summarize Comprehension Strategy, using “The Boy Who Cried Wolf“ fairy tale to illustrate this strategy. The storyteller first reads the fairy tale without comment. Next, the story is read once again as a think-aloud with interruptions to show how readers should summarize sections of the reading as they read to monitor and build comprehension.
If you have found this article to be helpful, check out the next comprehension strategy, “Connect,” and the resources to teach this cueing strategy.
Sam and Friends Phonics Books Teaching Reading Strategies Intervention Program
The author, Mark Pennington, has written the comprehensive reading intervention program, Teaching Reading Strategies, the accompanying Reading and Spelling Game Cards, and the accompanying 54 take home decodable Sam and Friends Phonics Books. These books include teenage characters and themes and are perfect for older readers.
Reading, Study Skills