Sunday, January 22, 2012

Summarizing Rubrics

Summarizing still amazes me. When you sit down and think about all of the skills that a reader must coordinate to summarize a text, it's amazing that readers can summarize at all. Readers have to understand the text, grasp the structure, distinguish important ideas from less important ones,  and synthesize a new way to express the ideas in the text.

For all its fascination, summarizing can also be frustrating. Ten years of teaching summarizing have shown me that there is no quick fix, no one flashy lesson that fixes all of the problems. This is why I feel so strongly that instruction in summarizing needs to be woven into all reading teaching. Activities like  choosing the best summary, finding important ideas, or locating "seductive details" that drag the reader away from the main point are all quick ways to build summarizing skills all year long.

With these activities behind us, I'm getting ready to dive into some deeper summarizing with students. As part of this, I've been thinking about assessing summarizing. One way to assess summarizing is to look at a student summary and count the number of important ideas that are included. (I wrote about this method in this blog post.) This is quick and especially good for younger writers.

But this method doesn't assess the other aspects of a good summary, such as paraphrasing and following the structure of the text. To try to get at these aspects, I created this 6-point rubric. The basic structure of the rubric follows the rubric in Summarizing, Paraphrasing, and Retelling. Instead of just 4 points, though, this rubric includes 6.

Important Ideas: A good summary should include the important ideas from the text. With this rubric, it's okay for a reader to include a few more details than strictly necessary. 

Paraphrasing: I like to be able to distinguish between summaries that attempt to paraphrase, but do so inaccurately, and summaries that just copy from the text.

Structure of the Text: It's this component that led me to write the new rubric in the first place. On the one hand, a summary should reflect the structure of the text--within reason. I like to think of the television show "Lost" as an example of when a skillful summary might deviate from the structure of a text. If you were going to summarize that show--which I so do not recommend!--you would probably rearrange the ideas to make an easier chronology. In nonfiction text, sometimes authors play around with a structure for effect. Some rearrangement of ideas can help to make the summary more clear. In these cases, a highly skilled summary would not necessarily match the structure of the text.

Word Choice: I added "academic language" to the rubric, because it's something that I want to start helping students work toward.

I look forward to trying this out in the next few weeks...I'd love to hear your comments about it!

(Oh, and I also just posted a huge folder of summarizing resources to TeachersPayTeachers...30 files with different kinds of summarizing activities, paraphrasing lessons, and more!)


  1. Emily - I truly believe I could sit at my computer all day and still not soak up all that you share on here for reading! Your activities and lessons you've created are AMAZING! Thank you so much for sharing! Do you have a curriculum you are working off of? Do you have a map of where, when, and how long you stay on topics? I would love to pick your brain (maybe through email?) about what/how you do reading!

    1. Thank you so much for the compliments--you're too kind. :) I'm in a small district, one of 6 fourth grade teachers, and we've been working on curriculum mapping for the past four years. Write to me at elkissn at and I'll talk with you more!