Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Scaffolding Summarizing, Teaching Text Structure

For the last few years, my text structure instruction has looked fairly similar:

1. Give an overview of what structure means
2. Help kids to understand the thinking behind the text structures
3. Work with students to use graphic organizers to depict information from different text structures
4. Help students to use text structure to ask questions and generate predictions

This year, though, I've been adding a step. While we work in each text structure, we've also been looking at how to summarize that text structure. For example, when we looked at chronological order text, we talked about how a summary of needs to reflect the chronological order structure. For cause and effect, we looked at how successful summaries include both the causes and effects.

But I can't think of anything worse than having students write a summary of every text, every day! To make the endeavor more interesting, I've been using a variety of scaffolds.

Choosing the best summary: This is a simple activity, but so effective! After we read a text, students have to choose the best summary, usually out of a choice of 4. The less successful summaries generally reflect errors that I see in my students' writing--summaries with the "copy and delete" method, summaries that include personal opinions, and summaries that just mention the topics instead of the actual information.

When students choose the best summary, they gain experience with the academic register of summarizing. I can also see what implicit rules they are using for summarizing and can correct any misconceptions. Luckily, kids find this a pretty interesting and engaging activity. Today they worked in groups of 3 to choose the best summary, cut it out, mount it to a piece of construction paper, and explain why it was the best summary.

Summary Frames: A summary frame is a skeleton summary. You provide the students with the introduction sentence and the framework. Students fill in the details from the text. These are especially helpful for students who might be able to pick out the important ideas from the text, but struggle with writing. To help these students to synthesize the text details with the framework, have them read the summary aloud to a partner or rewrite it.

Group Summaries: Try asking 2-3 students to work together to compose a summary and write it on a piece of large construction paper. As they get started, position yourself nearby. The conversation is fascinating! "How do we start?" one kid will ask, and then they'll take turns sharing the rules that they've generalized for how to start and then how to proceed. Sometimes, yes, they will squabble, but the disagreements are often productive in that one child will convince another to abandon an unworkable strategy.

What to do with groups that seem stuck? I'll usually go over with a marker and help them with a sentence. Often this is enough to pull them ahead and solve their problem.

What's been helpful is that students have had the chance to see how the different text structures are reflected in summaries. And we've had fun with different texts along the way!

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