Teaching Section Summarization Strategies

What are summarization strategies?

A summary is a brief statement or set of statements used to show how a reader has condensed information to get to the central message of a larger chunk of information. Sometimes this central message is called the gist of the text. A summarization strategy is a set of steps that a student follows to determine the gist of the chunk of information that is being summarized. Different summarization strategies may be required for different types of text and different lengths of text.


How can summarization strategies help your students?

Very few students are proficient at summarizing all the materials they encounter. College students frequently struggle to summarize material in their courses. Many students have not developed the comprehension strategies required to condense what they have read into manageable chunks of information. Summarization requires a reader to distinguish between important, less important, and trivial information and to make a judgment about what are the main ideas and supporting details of the paragraph and topic levels. Judgments about importance are often based on the background knowledge of the reader. As students encounter text in different areas, they need an approach to sort information, and they need to see how individuals with sufficient background knowledge identify important information and summarize. Asking students to read and summarize reading selections without the teacher describing and routinely modeling how to use an appropriate summarization strategy, especially of varying text length, content area, and complexity, will not improve the ability of students to summarize. However, since almost all learning in school requires a student condense and remember what has been read, summarization comprehension strategies are important to teach.


Who can benefit from instruction in summarization strategies?

Some students can read and summarize text fairly well. However, as text becomes more difficult, increases in length, is more inconsiderate, or the student does not have sufficient background knowledge, comprehension will falter, and more deliberate work on summarizing is required. Struggling readers may need instruction and practice in summarizing paragraphs; other students may need instruction and practice in summarizing larger chunks of information. However, if the material becomes more difficult to comprehend, students who previously could summarize multi-paragraph sections, may need to return to more paragraph level summarizing and work up to section summarization and summarization of whole chapters.

What are the types of summarization strategies I might teach?

There are several ways of thinking about the types of summarization strategies. One way of thinking about the types of summarization strategies you might teach in the classroom is by the length of text you want students to understand.

  • The Paragraph Summarization Strategy. This strategy focuses on students reading one paragraph at a time, stopping at the end of each paragraph, and then asking some questions to find the main idea and supporting details. Students can tell someone what they think the paragraph is about, or they can write it.
  • The Section Summarization Strategy. This strategy focuses on students reading a multi-paragraph section that covers a topic. The student begins by raising questions about what the section might be about. As the students read, they are prompted to make one important summary statement about each paragraph; at the end, they answer the questions they raised as the beginning of the section, state or write a connected summary using the important statements recorded during reading, and then describe how this section relates to the preceding and following sections.

    The emphasis of this level of instruction and practice is on the integration on multiple main ideas to identify the significance of the set of ideas as a whole. If the student has difficulty with making paragraph level important statements as part of section summarization, the student is not ready for section summarization. More instruction and practice in paragraph summarization should be provided.

  • The Multi-Section Summarization Strategy. This strategy focuses on the type of summarization that is required for report writing. As the student reads each section in a chapter or chapter of a book, he/she makes at least three summarizing important statements. This may not cover all the information in the section or chapter, but it should be enough to help the student remember what the section or chapter was about when the summary report needs to be written. If the report is based on chapters in a narrative text, the statements might focus on what happened at the beginning, middle, or end of the chapter. When the student has finished reading the text, a summary is created using the three important statements. A paragraph with a topic sentence, at least three supporting sentences, and a closing sentence are created. If the student has trouble with summarizing for report writing, then more instruction and practice in section summarization is provided.


How do you teach the Section Summarization Strategy?

  1. Select section summarization as the best strategy to teach when students seem to be able to correctly paraphrase the main idea and details of a paragraph, and students struggle with pulling the ideas together from multiple paragraphs is a section of text. This might be a part of a section of a textbook that is marked by headings or a section of a story that has no specific section markers. Good readers may have developed the skill of fluent paragraph level summarization. If you have already introduced paragraph summarization, you can introduce section summarization if about half of your class has mastered paragraph summarization. It is possible to teach and practice both strategies simultaneously,
  2. Before you start asking students to summarize a section, explain to them the purpose of learning how to summarize a section of text. Focus your rationale on the idea that section summarization helps us to pull together clusters of ideas that can be used to identify and make conclusions about what the author is communicating.
  3. Describe the strategy and make a list of the steps on the overhead or board. Ask students to write it and keep the steps in their notes. The critical steps of the strategy you could describe might include:
    Step 1: Identify a mindset
    The section to be read is identified by looking for a natural break such as the next heading, the end of the page, or by simply chunking four or five paragraphs at a time to read. When you identify this chunk, you are deciding where you will stop and check your understanding of the section. Once a section is targeted, you should survey the section and identify the following:

    Purpose: What do I need to learn from this section?
    Author's Structure: How will the organization of this section guide my thinking? 
    Critical Question: What is the critical question that needs to be answered?
    Essential Vocabulary: What key words do I need to know?

    Step 2: Read each critical paragraph.
    After you have surveyed the whole section in Step 1, read each paragraph and identify the main idea. Use your paragraph summarization strategy, if you aren't sure of your main idea. When you finish reading all the paragraphs in the section, follow the AIM steps to pull together the information.
    Step 3: Ask yourself, "What is the section thesis?"
    Questions to Ask to Find the Thesis
    What is this section about?
    This section is about ___(section topic)___.
    What does it tell me about __(section topic)__.
    It tells me ___(section thesis)___.

    For the Section Topic
    Look for repetitions of the same topic words across (throughout) the paragraphs.

    For the Section Thesis:
    Look for the thesis in the first paragraph or last paragraph of the section
    What do most of the main idea statements say about the topic?

    Step 4: Identify summary points.
    For a summary
    A section summary starts with a thesis statement.
    After the section thesis, add the paragraph main idea statements that support the thesis.
    Step 5: Make connections.
    Looking back, I think...
    (Based on what the section is about, think about how your understanding has changed.)
    Looking ahead, I think...
    (Based on what this section is about, think ahead and make predictions.) 
    Looking at Section Goals, I think...
    (Decide if you met the purpose, understood the structure or organization, can answer the critical questions, and know the essential vocabulary.)
  4. After describing the paragraph summarization strategy, model how the strategy should be used on a well-written section of text. Say each step of the strategy as you model it, so students see where you are as you start and complete each step. Think aloud as you model and explain how you made each decision. Using another paragraph, model the strategy again, and this time begin to ask students to participate in following the steps of section summarizing.
  5. Now that students see how the strategy works, instruct students to partner with another student and have them practice describing the steps to one another as you walk around the class and listen to their practice. Tell them to refer to their notes to help them describe each step. After the partner practice, move into a group review and ask students questions about the purpose of each step of the strategy. The goal of this activity is to make sure each student understands each step of the strategy and how to use it.
  6. After the strategy has been presented, post the steps of the strategy in a place in the classroom where you and the students can refer to it when needed. Several times each week identify a critical section of text and model how you would summarize it. As a class, work through several sections of critical information and summarize each section.
  7. Make reading assignments that require students to summarize sections to each other or on paper. Two sections of text are about the right length of reading for this type of assignment. As students summarize sections, walk around the room and see which students have difficulty with section summarization.
  8. Students who have difficulty with section summarization may need more individualized attention than what can be provided via large group instruction. Students who become fluent with section summarization should either move to multi-section summarization or more difficult materials. Continued practice in the steps of section summarization by students who comprehend the sections without going through the steps will result in low motivation.

Where can you find more information about summarization strategies?

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