Summarizing is very important in the Common Core. What do students need to be able to do? How can we prepare them for these demands? It can be helpful to look at the requirements grade by grade.
Grade 2, RI 2: Identify the main topic of a multiparagraph text as well as the focus of specific paragraphs within the text.
Grade 3, RI 2: Determine the main idea of a text, recount the key details and explain how they support the main idea.
Hmm..."recount the key details" sounds a great deal like retelling, doesn't it? As students progress to longer informational texts in third grade, it is important that they continue to practice retelling so that they can work on remembering important information from a text. This activity helps students to practice retelling.
I wrote this Finding Topics and Main Ideas presentation several years ago. This presentation is an easy way to help students find those main ideas and key details in text.
Explaining how details support a main idea can be trickier for third grade students, especially those who are not yet thinking abstractly. After all, the whole idea of details "supporting" a main idea is figurative. Working with opinion paragraphs (especially paragraphs that they find disagreeable!) can help them to understand how this process works. For more ideas, you can look at Main Ideas and Details in Nonfiction Text, which includes paragraphs for practice, a center activity, and a PowerPoint that clearly explains how details can support a main idea.
In third grade, students should also be expected to choose the best summary from several choices. This is a fairly easy activity to add to regular instruction. Watching which summary students choose can help you to learn about their reading processes.
Grade 4: Determine the main idea of a text and explain how it is supported by key details; summarize the text.
At fourth grade, formal summarizing begins. One mistake that I have made in the past is acting as if summarizing is difficult or unpleasant. ("Oh, we'll skip writing a summary this time--you've worked so hard today!") Summarizing needs to become a routine, something that students are used to doing frequently.
This lesson can help students learn the basics.
But just talking about the rules isn't enough to help students write successful summaries. They also need more experiences with choosing the best summary, critiquing summaries, and deciding which details need to go into a summary. For texts and activities to help students become more successful, you can look at Paraphrasing and Summarizing Lessons for Nonfiction Reading.
Next time, I'll write about increasing summarizing difficulty in grades 5-7. :)