How to Teach Students to Write Summaries

May 9, 2020
Summarizing is one of the most popular study techniques. However, making a good summary isn't as simple as it seems. Find out how to teach children to write summaries in this article.

When writing a summary, we have to focus on the essentials – the most important information – and discard all irrelevant data. Mastering this strategy of understanding and producing summaries is fundamental for any student. For this reason, we’ve prepared this article to help students learn to write summaries.

In the first place, we want to point out that this is a very complex skill that’s acquired with time and practice. Because of this, it’s advisable for students to start writing summaries from the first years of Primary Education.

What does summarizing consist of?

Before teaching children to write a good summary, we need to be clear about what a summary is. According to José Antonio Moreiro González, summarizing can be defined as:

“An action carried out on the content of a document or text to reduce the abundance of information contained in them, and to highlight those parts of the message that are most useful. After this, the original message is transformed, becoming a new document that we know as a summary: an autonomous text, brief and grammatically complete, that gathers together the substance of content of the original text.”

– José Antonio Moreiro González –

How to Teach Students to Write Summaries

Put more simply, summarizing consists of selecting the most important information from a text and writing it in one’s own words in a shorter form.

In this way, we can modify and synthesize the content that needs to be studied. We relate and represent the main and secondary ideas of the text in order to make it easier to assimilate and memorize.

What cognitive operations are involved?

According to Teodoro Álvarez Angulo, professor of Didactics of Language and Literature at the Complutense University of Madrid, preparing a summary is a complex process. It involves several cognitive operations, such as:

  • Understanding the text
  • Reflecting on the content
  • Processing the information and knowing how to differentiate all the ideas, selecting, organizing, and forming hierarchies using the ideas in the text
  • Reformulating and rewriting the relevant parts of the text
  • Producing a new text
  • Following the rules of textuality (coherence, cohesion, adequacy and correction).

How can we teach students to write summaries?

To teach students how to write good summaries, we must first instruct them to carry out a quick first reading of the text. After that they’ll do a thorough reading, reading the text carefully, and focusing on trying to understand each paragraph.

After this, they should apply the technique of underlining, and identifying and selecting the main ideas. They need to discover the most important information and complementary information in each paragraph. When they’ve done that, they need to write a key word or short sentence in the margin of each paragraph that defines the main ideas that they’ve underlined.

Once all these previous steps have been completed, they’ll have to start work on writing the summary. To do this, they should take into account all the sentences and ideas that they’ve underlined. They should always use their own words or simpler words to shorten the text and always avoid copying or paraphrasing.

A good summary

Tell the student that a good summary should have the following characteristics:

  • It should contain all the important ideas
  • They should link the main ideas in the text, using sentences that make sense
  • The composition should contain short, direct sentences
  • It must be objective, and they shouldn’t include their opinions on the subject matter
  • They must write it by taking the general ideas and making it specific
  • It mustn’t contain hyphens or asterisks.

In short, you should make it clear to the students that summarizing doesn’t consist of copying small fragments of the text. They have to write the essence of the text in their own words; they must take the main ideas and re-construct the text in as few words as possible and in a clear and understandable way.