Summarizing a narrative seems like it should be easy. After all, stories are told in chronological order. We experience life in chronological order. Stories have a clear beginning, middle, and end.
However, anyone who has ever read student summaries of stories knows that this is not always an easy skill. Sometimes a student summary reveals that a student is reading with shallow comprehension, not attending to place names or character names. Sometimes a student summary shows that a student did not understand how the pieces of a story fit together. And sometimes a summary reveals that a student is struggling with deciding which information is important and which details are not important.
As I work with students to summarize stories, I keep these ideas in mind:
Here are some fun classroom activities that you can use to teach students how to summarize stories.
Retold in 60 Seconds: Can you retell a story in 2 minutes? 60 seconds? 40 seconds? This activity is fun for everyone and really helps readers to consider which events and details can be left out, and which ones must be included.
Solving the Retelling Problem, Part 1: Some of my favorite resources for getting kids started with retelling.
Solving the Retelling Problem, Part 2: Struggling readers need lots of support as they manipulate figures to retell a story. This anecdote explains how I coached a reader through this.
Collapsing Lists of Events: When student summaries are too wordy, they often benefit from learning how to collapse lists of events.
Summarizing Stories: This unit has resources for teaching students how to summarize dialogue, collapse lists of events, and summarize parts of stories.