Summarizing teaches students how to discern the most important ideas in a text, how to ignore irrelevant information, and how to integrate the central ideas in a meaningful way. Teaching students to summarize improves their memory for what is read. Summarization strategies can be used in almost every content area.

When to use: Before reading During reading After reading
How to use: Individually With small groups Whole class setting

Why use summarizing?

  • It helps students learn to determine essential ideas and consolidate important details that support them.
  • It enables students to focus on key words and phrases of an assigned text that are worth noting and remembering.
  • It teaches students how to take a large selection of text and reduce it to the main points for more concise understanding.


How to use summarizing

  1. Begin by reading OR have students listen to the text selection.
  2. Ask students the following framework questions:
    1. What are the main ideas?
    2. What are the crucial details necessary for supporting the ideas?
    3. What information is irrelevant or unnecessary?
  3. Have them use key words or phrases to identify the main points from the text.

Download blank templates

Watch: Summary Map

The Summary Map activity provides students with practice using the comprehension strategy retelling to improve their understanding of what they read and to foster a greater understanding of the structural features of a summary. See the lesson plan.

This video is published with permission from the Balanced Literacy Diet. See many more related how-to videos with lesson plans in the Reading Comprehension Strategies section.

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Language Arts

Here's a lesson plan for helping students learn to summarize using Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. See example >

More examples

Differentiated instruction

for second language learners, students of varying reading skill, and younger learners

  • Use writing activities to build on prior knowledge, help improve writing, and strengthen vocabulary skills.
  • Guide students throughout the summary writing process. Encourage students to write successively shorter summaries, constantly refining their written piece until only the most essential and relevant information remains.
  • Have students work together to answer summary questions and write responses.

See the research that supports this strategy

Jones, R. (2007). Strategies for Reading Comprehension: Summarizing. Retrieved 2008, January 29, from

Guthrie, J. T. (2003). Concept-Oriented Reading Instruction: Practices of Teaching Reading for Understanding. In C. Snow & A. Sweet (Eds.), Reading for Understanding: Implications of RAND Report for Education (pp. 115-140). New York: Guilford.

Children's books to use with this strategy

Goose and Duck

Goose and Duck

By: Jean Craighead George
Age Level: 3-6
Reading Level: Beginning Reader

Fact and fiction combine in this story of migrating birds and imprinting behaviors by a well known naturalist.

Your Skin Holds You In

Your Skin Holds You In

By: Becky Baines
Genre: Nonfiction
Age Level: 0-3
Reading Level: Pre-Reader

Everything you never knew you wanted to know about skin is presented in an engaging, light combination of photographs and drawn lines. The result is an informative book that can be shared in layers, demonstrating that "it's your skin that holds you in!"

Owen and Mzee: The True Story of a Remarkable Friendship

Owen and Mzee: The True Story of a Remarkable Friendship

By: Isabella Hatkoff, Craig Hatkoff, Paula Kahumbu
Genre: Nonfiction
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Independent Reader

When a tsunami orphans a young hippopotamus, a group of concerned Malidi (on the east coast of Kenya) villagers figure out how to capture the 600 pound baby thus beginning his new life in an animal sanctuary with a new and unlikely companion — a 130 year old tortoise named Mzee. Full color photographs and straightforward text are used in this inspiring, appealing and true story told first by a young girl and her father.


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Malala Yousafzei