The big idea of summarizing requires students to capture the essence of a text, experience or event and relate it in a condensed format. Summarizing is a skill that students require in any subject area where they work with information.

Learner outcomes may not always explicitly use the term “summarize.” The following language may be used within outcomes to signal the skill of summarizing.
identify beginning, middle and end
record or represent key facts and ideas in own words

The Competencies of Critical Thinking, Managing Information and Communication are integral to the skill of summarizing. Depending on the specific curricular context, other competencies may also be developed.

Teaching the Skill of Summarizing 'through the Lens of Assessment'

It can be challenging to condense a large amount of text into a summary. An effective summary needs to follow the Goldilocks principle – not too detailed, not too vague, but just right. 

Many students will likely need help in knowing how to determine what the main ideas are and how to build in effective transitions between their key points. Thinking about the end goal while planning instructional activities can assist in reaching those students who need some extra support to be successful.

Clarify the Learning Destination

Provide a sample of two different summaries based on a familiar story. One summary should be too succinct, missing the big ideas and leaving the audience wondering what the story was about. Another summary should be far too long and include too much extraneous detail.

Ask students to compare the two summaries. Work with students to generate a list of qualities of an effective summary.

This activity could be adapted to the content areas where students may need to describe a procedure or provide the historical context of an event.

Let’s Talk about It 

How would you describe the qualities of an effective summary within the subject and grade you are teaching? Having these ideas in mind will assist you in leading a conversation with your students.

Be sure that the list you generate with your students is in keeping with what the outcome is asking, and doesn’t include extraneous factors.

Provide a Graphic Organizer

The specific design of a graphic organizer will depend on several factors, including the grade, subject area and students’ experience with summarizing.

Not all students will require a graphic organizer. On the other hand, providing a graphic organizer as an instructional strategy should not automatically lead to the resulting summative product being assessed as of lesser quality than work produced without an organizer. 

The graphic organizer samples show how an organizer can be modified to focus on the specific need a student has.

Graphic Organizer Samples for Summarizing

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Let’s Talk about It 

Think of a student who struggles with summarizing. Where could a graphic organizer be used to support this student with an upcoming assignment?

Model a Feedback Process

Select a sample of a student work from a previous year, a sample willingly provided by a current student, or a sample of your own writing to replicate a summary that is at a ‘not yet’ level of quality.

Even when feedback is being provided to one student, other students may be able to use that feedback to recognize gaps in their own work and independently make adjustments.

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Modelling Feedback

Modelling Feedback

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AAC Member Only Content

Let’s Talk about It 

Where could you model a feedback process for a summary in an upcoming lesson?

Assessing the Skill of Summarizing

Assessment includes both formative and summative experiences. Formative assessment is closely linked with instruction. Formative assessment helps prepare students to be successful with summative assessment. 

Look through a New Lens

It’s often difficult to see the gaps in our own writing because we know what we intended to include. A peer can provide helpful feedback, even if they are not familiar with the context.

The perspective of a peer can be invaluable in helping students discover gaps in a summary. 

Let’s Talk about It 

Where could peer feedback be used in an upcoming assignment to help students improve the quality of their summaries?

Formative Feedback Tools

The following feedback tools have been developed as part of AAC performance assessment tasks, and can be easily adapted to any grade or subject.

Rather than asking students to determine a level of performance, the first  feedback tool describes the goal of an effective summary.  It is designed to help students work with peers to identify any gaps in the student’s work.

The second feedback tool provides a place for a reviewer (classmate, older student, parent, teacher) to ask questions about the content the student has provided in a storyboard for a comic strip. Questions from the reviewer can help the student recognize gaps in their work at a time when the student can use the feedback to improve their work.

Grade 6 Social Studies
Peer Coaching Tool: Describe Structure and Function:
Describe Roles and Responsibilities

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Storyboard Planner and Feedback Tool

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Let’s Talk about It 

Where could you insert time for feedback as you plan for an upcoming student assignment? Be sure to provide time for students to act on the feedback they have received.

Offer Choice – Even in Summative Assessment!

Unless the learner outcome specifically requires students to provide a summary in writing, teachers should be prepared to find other ways for students to demonstrate their understanding. 


Let’s Talk about It 

Think about a student who struggles to summarize information in writing. How might a choice of format assist this student to demonstrate their understanding? How can teachers ensure that performance standards remain consistent when differentiating the format?

Build a Better Rubric

It’s important that students understand that an effective summary is not about how long the summary is but rather about how well the summary has captured the key ideas. 

Compare the non-example rubric with the preferred rubric to see how a rubric can be designed to assess a summary.


Build a Better Rubric for Summarizing

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Let’s Talk about It 

How might exemplars help teachers, students and parents understand the levels of quality described in the rubric?

Summarizing in Action

Are you currently teaching the skill of summarizing? Contact us if you are interested in submitting exemplars of your students working with this skill. An AAC facilitator will guide you though the process.

Are you interested in collecting and submitting samples of student work for this AAC Big Idea?

An AAC Field Services Facilitator will walk you through the process. Please fill out the form below to contact us!

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