14 Strategies And Activities For Building Summarizing Skills In Middle Schoolers

The word “Summarizing” means understanding the theme of a text, identifying the key points and important details, and comprehending and analyzing it before writing it down in your own words. 

Teaching summarizing to middle school students is tricky because a summary has no definite answer. Every student can write a summary based on their understanding and analysis of a given topic. Bringing all students on the same page so each one of them can identify and pick out the main idea and associated details to write an effective summary can be challenging. 

To overcome this challenge, teachers can use multiple strategies and activities to help students learn how to write effective summaries that constitute the heart of the matter. To help you in your quest to find effective ways to teach summarizing to your students, we have created a combined mix of strategies and activities that can make your lessons interesting and engaging for your students.

7 Strategies to write an effective summary

Strategies can be described as different techniques or methods adopted by teachers and students to develop a thorough understanding of a topic. Strategies allow students to explore the content, think flexibly, and culminate the gathered information to summarize a topic. In this section, we have enlisted seven easy strategies which students can adopt for summarizing various texts. 

1. Somebody, Wanted, Because, But, So, Then (SWBBST)

Through this strategy, students are able to identify the main elements of the text. This strategy works well for summarizing fiction texts. Word prompts like Somebody, Wanted, Because, But, So, and Then help students figure out the main components of the story that they can collate to write a summary. Write these words on one side of the whiteboard and write the text or story on the other. After going through the story, help students identify the answers to the word prompts. For example – 

  • “Somebody” means the main character 
  • “Wanted” means what the character wants 
  • “Because” means why the character wants it 
  • “But” means the problem or the conflict in the story
  • “So” means how the character deals with the problems
  • “Then” means how the story ends

When this is done, let students write the information collected in the form of a summary. Involve the students in a few guided practice summary-writing sessions before asking them to work independently on other texts.

2. 5 Ws and 1 H

This strategy is similar to the above one as it also requires students to find specific answers from the text that needs to be summarized. But this time, students find the answers to question prompts like who, what, where, when, why, and how. 

  • Who – Identify the main characters
  • What – What problem is the main character facing? 
  • When – During which time does the story take place?
  • Where – Where are the main characters?
  • Why – Why is the character facing a problem?
  • How – How can the character resolve the problem? 
Summarizing chart

You can give students graphic organizers to note down answers to the above questions. Once students identify the answers, they can frame their summary and write it in their own words. There is one aspect of this strategy where students might need a little more help is identifying the answers to “how” and “why” questions. Appropriate guidance can help them understand how they can find answers to these questions when they are trying to write a summary without help.

3. Beginning, Middle, End

This strategy works well with long fiction stories and chapter texts. Using this strategy, students can chunk the entire story or text into three distinct parts – the beginning, middle, and end. Once these chunks are marked, students can work on finding and noting the main idea pertaining to the beginning, middle, and end. After jotting down the separate ideas, students can bring them all together to form a concise summary. 

You can even turn this strategy into a group activity. Divide the class into three groups and let each group work on one of the three parts of the strategy. One group can write down the main idea of the beginning, the other group can work on the middle of the story, and the last group can work on the ending. When all groups are done, they can discuss the main ideas of each section with each other and together work on writing a summary of the topic.

4. Five-Finger Summary

Remembering something at your fingertips is easy and allows quick recollection when required. So, use this strategy to help students remember the key elements they must concentrate on when writing a summary. Designate fingers to different elements like characters, setting, problem, events, and solution. 

Ask students to memorize these five elements, which they can find answers to when summarizing any text. Using this strategy, students can cover all the crucial points that must be a part of the summary. 

5. First, Then, and Finally

This is a good strategy for teaching summarising to beginners. When students are new to writing a summary, you cannot give them complex and long articles or stories for summary writing. To apply this strategy, you can use simple picture books of first and second grade to get students used to the idea of writing a summary. As early elementary picture books are short and simple, they are easy to understand by students. 

Story sequence chart

Read out the story a few times and show students how they can describe it sequentially. Most short stories can be summarized in chronological order by answering questions like – what happened “first,” “then” what happened, and how did it end? Once they get the concept, you can assign them independent summary writing tasks to review their understanding. 

6. GIST Summary

GIST summaries are short one-liner summaries of around 20 words. This strategy also combines the 5Ws and 1 H strategy. To write the GIST of a text, first, let the students read a short text and write answers to who, what, when, where, why, and how questions. Next, they can create a short 20-word summary using the information gathered. By having answers to relevant details about the text, it will be easier for students to write a short and crisp final summary. 

This strategy can also be used for summarising longer text. Divide the long text into short portions and let students write the gist of each portion separately before combining them to form a long and detailed summary of the entire text.

7. Using Magnet Words to Write Summaries

In this strategy, you introduce students to the term “magnet words”. A magnet word is basically a word around which the entire article or text is built upon. It is the highlight of the text, and all other information is related to it in one way or the other. You can explain this concept by telling students that just like a magnet pulls metal pieces toward it, magnet words pull relevant information toward them. 

To show students how to use this strategy, begin by reading a paragraph. Now discuss what makes a word relevant enough to be considered a magnet word. Explain how all information in the paragraph is related to the magnet word. Ask students to identify the magnet word and write it on the board. Now let them find related information and jot it down around the magnet word. Now students can use this information to form their individual summaries on the topic. 

Fun summarizing activities for middle school students

Educational activities encourage students to think critically and creatively and improve student engagement and retention of the subject matter. By incorporating summarizing activities in the lesson plan, teachers can spark interest in the minds of students, get their attention and have them actively participate in the classroom. So, let’s look at some interesting summarizing activities that you can do with your students in class.

1. Compare and Analyze

Compare and analyze - summarizing activity

Summaries can be of different types and can be written in different ways. There is no right or wrong answer. A well-written summary is concise and covers all the necessary details. To help students understand and appreciate summaries written in different styles, you can conduct the compare and contrast activity. 

Select a few summaries, some long and some short, and get them printed on a sheet. Share one of these sheets with every student. Let them go through the summaries and analyze which, according to them, is the best summary and why? In the end, students can share their answers, and you can have an open discussion to explain which aspects of the best summary sets it apart from the rest. 

2. Newspaper Headlines

Newspaper headlines - summarizing activity

Headlines can be considered as a one-liner summary of the entire article. They state the main essence of the text and are catchy to grab a reader’s attention. Writing a newspaper headline can also work as a great activity to help kids practice summarizing. 

Collect a few short newspaper articles, simple enough for middle schoolers. Display one article at a time on the interactive board. Ask students to read the text and write a short and eye-catching newspaper headline that must summarize the main idea of the text. When everyone is done writing, they can share it with the class while you pick the best ones and let students know why they are better than other headlines. 

3. Picture Summary

picture summary - summarizing activity

While our main objective is to teach kids how to write effective summaries, sometimes deviating a little from the traditional approach can be more beneficial for students. Keeping this in mind, you can carry out this activity in the class wherein students do not write a summary but draw it using images and doodles. 

Besides helping students learn how to derive meaningful information from a text, it also gives them a chance to be creative and use their visualization and drawing skills to depict the summary in a fun and interesting way. You will find many interesting versions of the summary as each student’s work will reflect their individual thought process. To wrap things up, students can share their picture summaries with one another and discuss their work. 

4. Cut and Summarize

For this activity, you can select a fictional story that’s 150-200 words long. Print the story in larger fonts than usual and make multiple copies enough to suffice the entire class. Hand over the text to students and read it out loud in class. Now comes the interesting part. 

Ask the students to cut important portions of text and separate them from the not-so-essential text. Now, using the essential text cutouts, students must form a summary of the story. They could stick the cutouts on paper to get them all together. As students will not be writing, you cannot expect kids to frame complete sentences. However, their cutouts must reflect the story’s main essence, which is what a summary is all about.

5. Watch, Think, and Summarize

Watch, thik and summarize - summarizing activity

Until now, we have been discussing activities where students read texts and try to summarise them. But this activity is slightly different because you do not give students a text to summarize. On the contrary, you show them a movie or a short video. 

You can pick any children’s animated movie for this activity. After watching the movie/ video, give students some time to think about the story and then write a summary to tell what it’s all about. As watching movies and videos is not a regular classroom activity, students will happily engage in the activity and have a good time. 

6. Hashtag Summary

In the era of social media, kids nowadays do not need an introduction to the concept of hashtags. Hashtags are keywords that reflect the main essence of any topic of discussion. To blend this into summarizing activity, all you need to do is share a piece of content with the students and give them the task of creating relevant hashtags relating to the content. 

You can tell them how many hashtags they must think of and whether they must be single-word hashtags or multiple words. This activity primarily focuses on letting students comprehend the main idea of the content, which they can convert into a hashtag.

7. Summarize Poem in Groups

Summarize poems in groups - summarizing activity

There are many poems middle school students would love to read. So, why not incorporate them into a summarizing activity? Select 3-4 good poems for your students and print one copy of each of them. Divide students into four groups and give each group one poem to work on. 

It will be better if you choose familiar poems so students get their meaning easily. After students read the poem, ask them to discuss and prepare a summary of the poem. Once done, a representative from each group can come forward and read the poem along with its summary to the entire class. You can take this opportunity to talk about the differences in summaries and share any suggestions if you deem them necessary. 

Final words

Teaching students complex topics like summarizing requires additional effort on the part of educators. By using effective strategies and engaging activities, teachers can simplify its complexity and help students grasp the idea of summarizing.

The main objective behind these activities and strategies is that students learn to differentiate and determine the vital ideas of a text and sum up the integral points in the form of a summary that’s precise and to the point. 

We hope this write-up has given you enough ideas on how you can teach summarizing using different strategies. And also, get students to practice writing a summary using the activities shared above.

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