The activity of writing a summary exemplifies the reading-writing synergy. Writing a summary of a text not only helps learners comprehend what they read by focusing on and connecting the important ideas, it also helps them process those thoughts by rephrasing them in their own words. In fact, simply writing summaries—with no other feedback, grades, or corrections—improves summary writing (Perin, 2002). Practice makes better!
Summarization skills are critical to student success in postsecondary education. Writing summaries of information is an important part of producing college papers. The information to be summarized often comes from text, which indicates the close relation of reading and writing instruction.
Graham and Hebert (2010) conducted a meta-analysis of studies that investigated whether students’ writing activities had any effect on their reading abilities. As one might expect,they found a strong reciprocal relationship between reading and writing. Having students write about what they have read helps improve their reading abilities. You can use this approach during many of the activities discussed in this guide, such as the following:
- Responding to a text in writing
- Writing summaries of a text
- Writing notes about a text
- Answering questions about a text in writing
A summary of a text is short, accurate, and written in students’ own words. It tells what is most important to the author and states the information needed for review. Because summaries are short—typically less than 100 words—they are great low-stress writing practice activities.
Suggested Steps for Teaching Summarizing
Step 1: Learners can summarize information stored in memory or, more often, information they find in text they are reading. A summary is anchored in the topic. The topic is what a text is mostly about. An easy way to find the topic is to keep track of how often an author repeats words or their synonyms.
- Discuss the text with learners and ask them what they think is the most important point. Ask questions that help them identify and clarify the topic.
- When learners can identify the topic of a passage, move to identifying the more specific topics of paragraphs. For example, what is the topic of the first paragraph? The second? And so on.
Step 2: When learners can identify the topic of a paragraph, they need to know how to find main ideas. You can define the main idea as the most important point an author makes about a topic.
- If you have not already done so, you will need to show learners how authors often put their main idea in the first sentence in a paragraph. Provide practice. Repeat the same procedure with paragraphs in which the main idea is in the last sentence and with paragraphs in which the main idea is embedded in the middle.
Then, teach learners how to construct a main idea when one is not clearly stated.
Model for learners how to construct implicit main idea statements for paragraphs,
and provide them with numerous opportunities to practice.
Step 3: When learners can identify the topic of a paragraph, recognize explicit main idea
statements, and construct implicit main idea statements when needed. Show them how to
apply these steps to a text with multiple paragraphs. Insist that learners write summaries
in their own words.
- There are many ways to write something! Have peers work together or share drafts.
Step 4: Review. Help learners build a habit of reviewing whether or not their summary is short, accurate, and written in their own words.
Learn an easy-to-remember strategy to help learners master these steps in the TEAL Center Fact Sheet on Self-Regulated Strategy Development, called RAP:
- Read a paragraph or passage.
- Ask questions: What is the topic? What is the most important thing it tells me about the topic? What are the important details?
- Paraphrase: Put the information into your own words.
Graham, S., & Hebert, M. A. (2010). Writing to read: Evidence for how writing can improve reading. A Carnegie Corporation Time to Act Report. Washington, DC: Alliance for Excellent Education.
Perin, D. (2002). Repetition and the informational writing of developmental students. Journal of Developmental Education, 26(1), 2–18.