Ohio Resource Center
Strategies:  Browse Reading Strategies


by Brenda Krum

What is summarizing?

Summarizing is a strategy in which readers sort through the information presented in a text in order to pull out and paraphrase the essential ideas. It requires readers to determine what is important, to condense this information, and to state it in their own words (Harvey & Goudvis, 2007). For narrative text, this strategy focuses on story elements; and for expository text, the focus is on main ideas. In its synthesis of research, the National Reading Panel (National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, 2000) found that providing instruction in summarizing helps students learn to identify main ideas, differentiate important from unimportant ideas, and remember what they read, both in free recall and in answering questions.

Where is summarizing discussed in the Ohio Academic Content Standards?

Summarizing is implied throughout the standards and is a prerequisite skill to meeting the intended learning expectations of the following standards:


  1. Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.
  2. Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.
  3. Analyze how and why individuals, events, and ideas develop and interact over the course of a text.
  1. Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, including the validity of the reasoning as well as the relevance and sufficiency of the evidence.
  2. Analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors take.


  1. Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.
  2. Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.
  3. Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details, and well-structured event sequences.
  1. Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects based on focused questions, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.
  2. Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, assess the credibility and accuracy of each source, and integrate the information while avoiding plagiarism.
  3. Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

Speaking and Listening

  1. Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.
  2. Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.
  1. Present information, findings, and supporting evidence such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.


  1. Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases by using context clues, analyzing meaningful word parts, and consulting general and specialized reference materials, as appropriate.

How can summarizing be taught so that it will support reading comprehension?

Research shows that explicit teaching techniques are effective in teaching comprehension strategies including summarizing. Explicit instruction involves the following steps:
  • Direct explanation: The teacher explains why the strategy is important, how it will help comprehension, and when to apply it.
  • Modeling: The teacher models or demonstrates how to apply the strategy. An effective method for modeling is to use the think-aloud strategy while reading a text to the students. (Information on think-alouds can be found in Cris Tovani's "Show Me the Thinking: Making Comprehension Instruction Visible" (2005) and Laura Robb's "Model Reading Strategies to Improve Comprehension for All Students" (2007).
  • Guided practice: The teacher guides and assists students as they learn how and when to apply the strategy. The teacher may give explanations, introduce organizational strategies, or pose questions to provoke student thinking and to assess understanding. The teacher provides additional opportunities for review and practice.
  • Application: The teacher helps students practice the strategy until they can apply it independently. The teacher monitors the students' performance by observing the students' unassisted work (Adler, 2001).

Using a Movie or TV Show
One way to introduce summarizing to students is to select a familiar movie or television show and give a one- to two-sentence summary. For example, using the movie Cinderella, you might say, "This movie was about a girl named Cinderella who lived with her wicked stepmother and two stepsisters. They made her do all the cooking and cleaning, but in the end, she is found by the Prince and lives happily ever after." Say to the students, "Did I tell everything about the movie? No, I told the most important information in my own words." Then have the students think about one of their favorite movies or television shows, and ask them to share the main points in one or two sentences (Cooper, Chard, & Kiger, 2006).

Recalling a Trip or an Event
Another way to introduce summarizing is to have students reflect on a recent trip they have taken or an event (such as a birthday party or family reunion) in their lives. Ask them to share the most important part of this trip or event by sharing the following:
  • When did this trip or event occur?
  • Where did you go, or what was the event?
  • What was the best part of this trip or event?

Using Graphic Organizers
Graphic organizers such as story maps—which ask students to provide specific details such as setting and characters—are valuable aids for students when preparing to construct summaries. They help students identify the important elements as they read rather than waiting until after reading. Once the students have read the text and completed the graphic organizers, the students can use this information to assist them in writing a summary.

To demonstrate how to use the graphic organizer to create a summary, model the process while reading aloud to students:
  1. Begin by showing the organizer to the students and explaining the different parts.
  2. Using a read-aloud or a selection from the core reading program that students have already read, work with students to record information on the graphic organizer and create a summary. This step may have to be repeated several times using different text samples before students are able to use the strategy in their own reading.
  3. Provide opportunities for guided practice in small cooperative groups, pairs, and/or independently.
A template of a story map is provided here for your convenience, or go to http://www.readwritethink.org/student_mat/student_material.asp?id=8 for additional story map links.

"Somebody Wanted But So"
Somebody Wanted But So is an instructional strategy that offers students an alternative to traditional story maps and provides another framework for creating summaries (Beers, 2003). It uses familiar vocabulary and guides students to summarize by completing the phrase Somebody (who) Wanted (this refers to what the "somebody" wanted) But (someone else does something) So (the result). Summaries can be written based on several points of view depending on who's listed in the "Somebody" column. This allows students to compare and contrast different summaries in order to come up with the one that best summarizes the entire story. The column heads are taken directly from Kylene Beers's book When Kids Can't Read: What Teachers Can Do, but you can certainly modify them to fit your needs, for example, by changing "Somebody" to "Character" or "Person" or "Who?" or even more targeted, "Cinderella."

Again, you'll want to model the use of the graphic organizer for students to demonstrate how to use it:
  1. Show the students a chart or transparency of the organizer, and briefly explain the different parts. (The real understanding will come when you begin to fill in the organizer.)
  2. Using the transparency or chart, ask students to name the main character(s) of the story, and list them in the "Somebody" column. When first using the strategy, it is helpful to use it with a story with only one main character. As students become familiar with the strategy, more complex stories will allow them to evaluate summaries from different points of view (multiple main characters).
  3. Work with students to determine what the character (Somebody) wanted in the story, what got in the way (But), and how the character resolved the problem (So). Encourage students to elaborate on one another's responses so that the important details are included.
  4. Work with students to write one or two sentences using the information on the chart to summarize the story. Review with students how this strategy helped them to summarize the story.
  5. After students appear to have a good understanding of how to apply this strategy, have them try it in pairs or small groups. Circulate, and provide assistance to students as needed.
The following is an example of how this strategy might be applied using The Wolf's Chicken Stew by Keiko Kasza:

Character Wanted But So
The wolf To fatten up the chicken in order to make her into chicken stew The chicken and her chicks thanked the wolf for all the wonderful food he had been leaving on their doorstep The wolf had dinner made by the chicken instead of having her for dinner

Summary: The wolf wanted to fatten up the chicken so he could make her into chicken stew. The chicken and her chicks thanked the wolf for all the food he left on their doorstep and made him dinner.

If you wish, you can download the graphic organizer provided here.

From the ORC Collection
"Book Report Alternative: Examining Story Elements Using Story Map Comic Strips" (ORC Record #2764) gives students practice in summarizing through the use of comic strip panels to create a story map. As noted in the ORC record:

In this lesson, students use a six-paneled comic strip to create a story map, summarizing a book or story that they've read either as a class or independently. The story strips also provide a way to assess student's understanding of important events and elements in a novel. Although this lesson plan uses Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are as an example to model the process of creating the story map comic strips, any book students have explored recently that demonstrates the elements of character, setting, problem, events, and solutions will work.

You can access the full ORC record, which includes a link to the resource along with information such as standards alignment, at http://www.ohiorc.org/record/?id=2764 or go straight to the lesson plan at http://www.readwritethink.org/classroom-resources/lesson-plans/guided-comprehension-summarizing-using-231.html.

Very Important Points
The V.I.P., or very important points, instructional strategy (Hoyt, 1999) can be used to assist students in locating the most important ideas in a selection. Students are given a sticky note with slim strips cut down to the sticky edge. As the students read, they tear off a piece and mark the important parts of the selection. The students are limited in the number of strips they have (teacher discretion based on the length of the text), and so when they have used all their strips and come to another point they want to mark, they must go back to their previously marked points and reevaluate which are most important. Students then must justify why they felt these were the most important points. As students become more adept in using this instructional strategy to identify the important points, the teacher can have them record this information and use it to create summaries of the text.

Read, Cover, Remember, Retell
Read, cover, remember, retell (Hoyt, 1999) is an instructional strategy that is used to help students stop after reading small portions of the text and retell what the section was mostly about. Many learners will continue reading a selection even if they don't understand what they have just read. This process supports both understanding of text and summarizing by stopping readers frequently to think about the meaning before moving on to the next section of the text. After students become adept at using this strategy to orally retell portions of the text, you can encourage them to write a summary sentence of each section and then use these sentences to write an overall summary of the selection.

Writing Summaries
This instructional strategy assists students in writing summaries by using a short passage and guiding them to highlight important information and cross out redundant, highly detailed, or unimportant information (adapted from Johns & Lenski, 2005). The steps are as follows:
  1. Provide students with a short passage written at their instructional reading level. The following is a sample selection adapted from http://www.kidsfarm.com/lions.htm:

    Mountain lions are amazing animals. They are the largest member of the cat family living in North America. Full-grown mountain lions can weigh as little as 90 pounds to as much as about 200 pounds. Most weigh about 110 pounds. From its nose to the tip of its tail, a mountain lion is about 6 feet long. Mountain lions are carnivorous. That means they are meat-eaters. They kill small animals such as rabbits and skunks for food. They also eat larger animals such as deer and elk. They even eat cattle, sheep, and horses. Because mountain lions are very secretive, they are hard to find. They often live in brushy and rocky places. They are very territorial. That means they live and hunt in a certain area or territory. They are beautiful animals, but they are very strong and can be very fierce and dangerous. We all need to be very careful if we go into their territory!

  2. Guide students to underline the main idea of the passage and cross out redundant, highly detailed, or unimportant information.

    Mountain lions are amazing animals. They are the largest member of the cat family living in North America. Full-grown mountain lions can weigh as little as 90 pounds to as much as about 200 pounds. Most weigh about 110 pounds. From its nose to the tip of its tail, a mountain lion is about 6 feet long. Mountain lions are carnivorous. That means they are meat-eaters. They kill small animals such as rabbits and skunks for food. They also eat larger animals such as deer and elk. They even eat cattle, sheep, and horses. Because mountain lions are very secretive, they are hard to find. They often live in brushy and rocky places. They are very territorial. That means they live and hunt in a certain area or territory. They are beautiful animals, but they are very strong and can be very fierce and dangerous. We all need to be very careful if we go into their territory!

  3. Help students create a graphic organizer with the remaining information.
  1. Write a short paragraph from the information recorded on the graphic organizer.

    Mountain lions are the largest member of the cat family in North America. They are carnivorous and dangerous. They are also territorial and secretive and can be hard to find.

  2. Continue to provide guided practice for students with appropriate selections, offering support and guidance as needed.

From the ORC Collection
"Guided Comprehension: Summarizing Using the QuIP Strategy" (ORC Record #2819) introduces students to the strategy of summarizing, providing guidance and practice in organizing information graphically and synthesizing it in writing. As noted in the ORC record:

Strategic reading allows students to monitor their own thinking and make connections between the texts and their own experiences. Based on the Guided Comprehension Model developed by Maureen McLaughlin and Mary Beth Allen, this lesson introduces students to the comprehension strategy of summarizing. Students learn how to summarize information using the QuIP (questions into paragraphs) strategy, a technique that involves graphically organizing information and synthesizing it in writing. This lesson begins with teacher-directed instruction and provides a scaffolded model to support students as they implement the strategy on their own.

You can access the ORC record at http://www.ohiorc.org/record/?id=2819, or go straight to the lesson plan at http://readwritethink.org/lessons/lesson_view.asp?id=2361.

How can summarizing be used to teach vocabulary?

Encourage students to use any key vocabulary, introduced before, during, or after reading, in their oral or written summaries.

How can summarizing be practiced in a literacy center?

Graphic organizers which have been introduced and practiced in whole-group or small-group settings can easily be used in a literacy center in order to provide additional independent or paired practice. Selections used should be either familiar or at the students' easy reading level.

A wide variety of literacy center activities can be accessed at the Florida Center for Reading Research website. Student center activities are arranged by grade bands K–1, 2–3, and 4–5 and then by component. The following is a list of center activities addressing summarizing at each grade band under the heading "Comprehension":

C.026: Get the Gist
C.031: Summarizing

C.030: Simple Summary
C.031: Sum Summary!
C.032: Strategic Strategies

C.013: Summary Step-Up
C.020: Super Summary
C.040: Sum-thing Special

How can instruction for summarizing be differentiated?

Modeling and initial instruction can easily be introduced in whole-group instruction. Small-group instruction may be necessary in order to meet the needs of students who are still struggling with summarizing. Instructional levels of texts used in lessons can also be varied to meet the individual reading levels of all students.

How can assessment be integrated into teaching the strategy of summarizing?

Students' written summaries provide an excellent source for assessing students' understandings of summarizing.


Adler, C. R. (Ed). 2001. Put reading first: The research building blocks for teaching children to read. Washington, DC: National Institute for Literacy.

Beers, Kylene. (2003). When kids can't read: What teachers can do. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Cooper, J. David, Chard, David J., & Kiger, Nancy D. (2006). The struggling reader: Interventions that work. New York: Scholastic.

Harvey, Stephanie, & Goudvis, Anne. (2007). Strategies that work: Teaching comprehension for understanding and engagement (2nd ed.). Portland, ME: Stenhouse.

Hoyt, Linda. (1999). Revisit, reflect, retell: Strategies for improving reading comprehension. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Johns, Jerry L., & Lenski, Susan David. (2005). Improving reading: Strategies and resources. Dubuque, IA: Kendall/Hunt.

National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD). (2000). Report of the National Reading Panel. Teaching children to read: An evidence-based assessment of the scientific research literature on reading and its implications for reading instruction (NIH Publication No. 00-4769). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

Robb, Laura. (2007, April). Model reading strategies to improve comprehension for all students. Adolescent Literacy In Perspective, http://www.ohiorc.org/adlit/inperspective/issue/2007-04/Article/feature.aspx.

Tovani, Cris. (2005, May). Show me the thinking: Making comprehension instruction visible. Adolescent Literacy In Perspective, http://www.ohiorc.org/adlit/inperspective/issue/2005-05/Article/feature.aspx.

Brenda Krum has been an educator for 22 years with Columbus City Schools. She has worked as a K–1 classroom teacher, Reading Recovery and Title I teacher, intervention specialist, and Reading First literacy specialist. She has also provided professional development through SIRI and e-Reads Ohio.