Monday, January 14, 2013

Super Single-Sentence Summaries

Summarizing is a great technique for boosting reading comprehension. Students who learn to produce great summaries are practicing saliency determination (figuring out what is most important as they read) as they work to separate the main ideas from the details. They’re also putting their memories through valuable exercise regimens by practicing information retrieval. But sometimes creating the same old summaries again and again can get a bit stale.

One way to spice up the summarization routine, as well as to help kids put new vocabulary words to work, is to ask them to provide short summaries around specific words selected from the text. Imagine a child reads an article about a NASA rover sent to investigate the surface of Mars. Parents and teachers can pick several words from a reading and prompt students to create single-sentence summaries. For example:

  • Think of a sentence that uses the word “crater” and describes something important you learned from this article. 
  • Think of a sentence using the word “geology” that tells something important explained in this article. 

Students learning in groups might all take turns contributing their own sentences in response to the instructor’s query.

Single-sentence summaries would be great tools for exploring themes in literature, too. Rather than asking for a basic summary of a book or a chapter, a teacher could select several individual words that express different themes explored in the reading (or, for older students, ask them to contribute) and ask students to create sentences based on those words. For example:

  • Can you think of a sentence using the word “imagination” that describes Harry? 

These brief summaries might be enough to get kids thinking, or adults may want to use this activity to prepare students for writing/telling longer, more traditional summaries about reading. Either way, they’re a great way to encourage students to use new words and for teachers to lead students to consider certain angles of a text. And they’re certainly more interesting and fun than having to do the same old summary exercise again.

This article is based on ideas found in “Simple Summaries, Fabulous Finds” in The Reading Teacher, 65(8).

Photo: CC by garysan97

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