Directions for teachers:

Begin by introducing your students to the concept of summarizing. Merriam-Webster defines a summary as “a short restatement of the main points (as of an argument) for easier remembering, for better understanding or for showing the relation of points.” Class assignments often ask students to summarize, but students also summarize in conversations with friends and family members.

Divide your students into pairs or small groups and ask them to use the following prompts to think about when and how they summarize information.

1. When do you summarize or interact with summaries from others? Be sure to consider examples outside of class assignments.

2. For each of the scenarios you described above, what is the goal of the summary? How does the goal affect the information included in the summary?

3. For each of the scenarios described above, who is the summary for? How does the information included in a summary depend on the audience?

4. How might your goal or audience affect the length of your summary and the language you choose to use?

5. When you’ve encountered complex information in the past (in a story, presentation or conversation), what techniques have helped you turn that info into a summary?

Read and take notes
Ask each pair or small group to choose one of the Science News’ Top 10 articles of the year to read. Make sure students know that they will have to summarize the article after reading. You can ask students to identify a note-taking technique in advance and/or encourage them to identify the following key points as they read. If time is available, consider having students answer the associated comprehension questions to aid in understanding.

Brainstorm and outline
Before students write their summaries individually, ask them to consider the prompts that follow.

1. What is the goal of your summary?

2. Who is your audience?

3. Given your goal and audience, how long should your summary be?

4. What was the main point of the article? That should be the start of your summary.

5. Given the length you’ve chosen, what information can you include and what must you leave out? Refer back to your notes to identify the most important information to include.

Write and review
Students should now write their summaries. After writing the summary, students should review the summary they’ve written using the prompts that follow. Then, students can revise the summary based on the answers.

1. Have I been brief?

2. Have I restated the essential information without repeating the exact words and phrases used in the original article — or, have I “used my own words”?

3. Have I missed any key points that I identified under the “Read and take notes” header that should be included?

4. What specific facts have I used from the original article? Have I incorporated those facts correctly?

5. Have I attributed information where necessary?

Share and reflect
Now have students read their summaries aloud in their small groups and answer the following prompts.

1. How were the summaries similar? Was there information that every group member thought was essential?

2. How were they different? What did some group members choose to leave out that others included? Why?

3. Could your summary be improved? What would you change about your summary after hearing other summaries?

4. How might you write your summary differently if you had chosen a different audience and/or goal?