Summarizing as a Thinking Strategy

Posted on Posted in Reading, Strategies
Summarize what you read. Typical reading task, right? Yes. But it is so much more than that! Summarizing is a powerful thinking strategy that spans all academic areas and even work-related life skills. It is the ability to make decisions about information in efficient ways. More than ever, summarizing is a needed skill for the information age!
 
Here are two  ways that summarizing can benefit every classroom as a thinking strategy, not just a reading comprehension skill.

For comprehension skills, read our two-part series on Teaching Summaries, Getting Detailed.

 

A Skill for Learning

Summarizing involves thinking about information. To summarize, a student must rethink and reprocess what was experienced. This makes summarizing a skill for thinking. During reading, a student will summarize by using four distinct cognitive skills:
  1. We must pause and retell what we read.
  2. Then the student must decide what was important about the text.
  3. These decisions are paraphrased into the student's own words.
  4. Finally, the paraphrased thoughts are logically sequenced into a summary.

That's complex! No wonder students struggle with summarizing. It's a skill that promotes learning. Maybe more importantly, it's a skill that increases our ability to learn...much like exercise.

 

Using Summarizing in All Classrooms

How can summarizing be used in a variety of settings? How can this thinking strategy promote learning in all classroom?

In a science class, students can be asked after each step of an investigation to paraphrase the steps in the process. At the end of the investigation, students can read their paraphrasing and create three sentences to summarize the scientific process. It's more than simply a quiz or exit ticket. It's a task that promotes processing and learning.

In a math class, a teacher can meet with small groups to review errors made on last week's test. After analyzing and discussing each error, students write down the "gist" of the mistake. After this 10-15 minute small group lesson, they read aloud what they wrote and discuss the common thread in all of the mistakes. This discussion is a summary of the students' learning.

 

Summarizing is a powerful learning strategy.
 

A Strategy for Reading Comprehension

We usually think of summarizing in the context of a reading skill. But a skill is different than a strategy.
 
A skill is a part of the reading process such as decoding words, reading fluently, analyzing a text, etc... Skills make the whole process possible. Reading skills are the building blocks to fully independent reading. They are the staple of reading instruction. However, the strategy should be embedded across content areas.
 
Strategies are bigger than skills. Seasoned readers don't just pick up a text and start going at it. They think about the text, what it is, why they are reading it, and how they are going to experience the text. These are strategies. They give the reader control of comprehension. Summarizing is one strategy a reader can use...if they have been appropriately taught how to summarize. 
 
When readers use summarizing as a strategy, the reader will pause during reading and paraphrase the meaning of a segment of text. As the reader continues to read, they continue to create a summary of what they are reading in their mind. It's an ongoing thinking skill that is used by readers to understand texts.
 
As a thinking strategy, summarizing is a powerful thinking ability that allows students to process information and make sense of it. Isn't that what we are doing in education? Making sense of the world around us? Summarizing is one strategy to help our students get there!
 
Related Teaching Strategies: Visible Learning Makes 200% Growth in 9 Weeks

Read more on how to teach summarizing.

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