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How to Solve Your Biggest Problems with Teaching Summary


Believe it or not I can actually teach reading! I just prefer to teach math or science because they challeng e me in ways that I can’t explain. That doesn’t mean that I have abandoned reading because if you have read any of my math  blog posts you will find that I use different reading strategies to teach problem solving.

Most of you all probably don’t know that I moderate a Facebook Group Teaching Tips for Struggling Learners (yeah I already know some you don’t like the word struggling). In this group the teachers can ask for suggestions about how to teach different skills in any subject area that they are having a difficult time with teaching. Well, after reading  my blog post on The Power of Retelling one of the teachers asked for ideas for teaching summary, soI told him that I would write a blog post that addresses teaching summary.

What is retelling?

What skills are needed before an effective summary can be developed?

Most upper elementary teachers who have never taught 1 or second grade do not know that the foundation skills for summary are taught as retelling as early as kindergarten. Retelling requires a student to retell important parts from the story in sequential order from their perspective. Based on what I have seen in the k-2, many upper elementary students who struggle with summary more than likely did not master retelling in the primary grades.  So, before a student can write an effective summary students must be able to orally retell a story because retelling helps children rethink their way through a text which also enhances their comprehension of the text.

“….Retelling helps children rethink their way through a text, thereby enhancing their own understanding.” Owocki,1999
Research has shown as far back as 1976, when Zimiles and Kuhns suggested that the comprehension of a six to eight year old students significantly improved when they were asked to retell a story after it was read to them. Teachers in upper elementary can use story retelling as an intervention to improve reading comprehension by incorporating a read aloud and using retelling as a post reading activity. When conducting retelling as a post reading activity with a fictional text, teachers should especially take note of whether or not the children are doing the following:

  • grasping the main idea of the story
  •  describing the main events with accuracy
  • telling the story sequentially
  • using vocabulary or phrases from the text
  • activating prior knowledge
  • identifying characters and settings
  • using detail to enhance retelling

How is teaching students to read fictional text different from reading nonfiction text ?

Nonfiction and fiction text are organized differently. There are different text structures for nonfiction text but the most common text structures are:

  • Problem/Solution
  • Cause and Effect
  • Compare and Contrast
  • Time Order/Sequence
  • Description/List

In the Comprehension Toolkit the authors suggest that teachers in the primary grades should approach nonfiction text in a researcher’s workshop. The author’s definition of research is to notice, pursue new learning, ask and answer questions, summarize information, and put all new learning together through drawing and writing. During the workshop students learn how to put information in their own words and synthesize the text by inferring,visualizing, and questioning strategies that help to move them beyond regurgitating factual knowledge about a topic.

Teaching students to comprehend texts can be tricky because so many students come to school with different life experiences. Making text connections are also another important part of teaching summary because when students are engaged and connected to a text it is much easier to put the information from a text into their own words.

There’s no magic pill when it comes to teaching reading comprehension skills because every student is different. Know this, when a student lacks the foundation skills in reading you will not be able to make any progress with that student until the achievement gaps from previous grade levels have been addressed. Without this intervention you and the student will become frustrated because you will be trying to build a house on a foundation that has been made with sand.


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