Monday, August 20, 2012

The Summarizing Hokey Pokey: That's What It's All About

Summarizing. We want students to do it all the time. After all, it's one of the most basic ways for a student to demonstrate comprehension of a story. But many times, we just read them a piece of writing or have them read a story and instruct them to summarize it. At best we tell them what a summary is... pulling out the important ideas from a story to tell what it is mostly about. The best way to make sure your students are proficient at summarizing to not only teach them what a summary is, but also how to do it. And to equip them with tools that can help them build a summary.

When you think about it, what we do when we summarize is to pare the story down to its bare bones. I like to tell students it's like writing an ad... or what they see on the back of the book... or to imagine that they only have two minutes on the phone to tell a friend about the book. So, the bottom line is that you only have time and space to give the essential big ideas, events, characters, and settings.

There are lots of strategies and activities out there to use to teach the skill of summarizing. Here are some I have gathered some that have worked for me and put them together in a freebie graphic organizer packet:
Or beginning, middle, end. In this strategy students give one sentence about what happened at the beginning, one for the middle, and one for the end. When you put those sentences together, you get a summary. BME's can be done as flip books, graphic organizers, or just written on a piece of paper.

Or Somebody Wanted But So Then. This one is great for those cause and effect stories or ones with clear problems and solutions.
Story Map
Have students fill in a story map graphic organizer with the main character, setting, problem, three big events, and solution. Again, you put those answers together into a paragraph and you get a summary.
Book Advertisement
Instruct students that they will be writing a commercial or magazine ad for the book. There is not much time or space to get bogged down in all the little details, so you have to only tell the important things that happen.
5 W's + H
Students answer the 5 W's (who, what, when, where, why) and you can add an H (how) if the story needs it. Those answers can also come together to make a summary.


  1. Those graphic organizers are fantastic Rachel. And I love the Summarizing Hokey Pokey song!

    Journey of a Substitute Teacher
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  2. This is a fun lesson, Rachel!
    I think we'll do the Hokey Pokey before we practice summarizing... That ought to make for some memorable sixth grade moments!


    Finding JOY in 6th Grade

  3. Wow! What a great post Rachel! Love it!

  4. yay im your newest follower...drop by girl =) almost at 100 woot woot

  5. Rachel, i would love to dscuss the strategies found in the graphic organizers. Summarizing is such an important skill.

  6. Love, love, love, love! Thank you for being so generous =)

  7. Thank you for this excellent handout. :-)