Teaching students how to summarize can be quite the challenge. I have 5 strategies you can use to teach your students how to summarize. 📓✏️📚

Let’s dive in! 

1️⃣ model with a familiar story

Anytime I am teaching something that is a higher-level strategy, I find it helps my students to use a familiar story. For example, in the Summarizing Stories Reading Mini Unit, we model 4 different strategies using The Little Red Hen. Here’s a link to a video of a read aloud in case you don’t have access to the book or your students haven’t heard that story in a while: 

You also might be wondering…

“Do I have to teach all 5 strategies?”

Nope! You can teach one strategy that you feel comfortable with and just continue reteaching. This will give students repeated opportunities to practice. My personal favorite is the SWBST strategy. It just helps create that flow. And then tuck these other strategies into your back pocket for small group or reading conferences. 

2️⃣ BME: (Beginning, Middle, and End)

This is often used to teach students how to retell, but I think it does not get enough credit for helping students to summarize in upper grades. When I teach narrative writing, I often teach students to plan by thinking about the big events at the Beginning, Middle, and End of the story. We use sticky notes to plan their draft. 

And anytime you can teach your students a similar strategy in both reading and writing, GO FOR IT! You are helping them make that reading + writing connection. 

I like to use sticky notes for this and lay them across their notebook, similar to this slide: 

Inside the summarizing stories unit, students can use the same strategy with reading passages in both a print and digital format.

One reason this strategy is so helpful for students is because it helps them to narrow down the whole story into major key events. A struggle for a lot of students with writing a summary is adding too many details. By giving them 3 boxes or sticky notes, it helps them to zoom in on the most important parts of the story. Then, students can use the big events to write the actual summary.

3️⃣SWBST (Somebody Wanted But So Then)

This one is my personal favorite. But honestly, I find it sometimes tricky with certain stories. You can use a graphic organizer to discuss the big events and then put it into a written summary. 

This strategy is great because it you can also have students use their ✋ hands ✋ to talk about each part. This strategy helps students not just identify the important parts of the story like the BME strategy, it also requires them to identify the problem, and solution. Understanding the problem and solution of the story is very important to summarizing because it is essential to the plot of the story. 

This strategy also sets students up to write a summary more effectively because it follows the sequence of events with key elements of the story (main character, problem, solution).

4️⃣ Use a Story Map

Since a summary includes all the story elements, using a story map is an even better scaffold. It helps students identify the main characters and problem that drives the main events. The graphic organizer will help students then write the summary.  

You can start by teaching students how to complete the story map with your read aloud using a picture book or a chapter book.

Students can then practice completing a story map on their own or with a partner using a reading passage. These passages are from my summarizing stories mini unit.

The unit also includes digital slides so that you can model how to complete the story map, do this together as a class, or assign to students as a digital activity.

5️⃣ 5W’s + H 

Most teachers use this one for writing a summary about an informational text, but I really like this strategy for summarizing stories too! Students identify the 5 was + h of the story by asking these questions: 

  • Who is the story about?
  • What are the main events in the story?
  • Where does the story take place?
  • When does the story take place?
  • Why do the main events happen?
  • How does the story end?

Here is what that would look like for “The Little Red Hen”.

Inside the summarizing stories unit, students can use the graphic organizer to try the strategy out with any book.

Then, they can use the answers in their graphic organizer to write a summary of the story.

6️⃣ (✨bonus strategy✨) Teach students the do’s and don’ts of a summary

You can also help students understand what makes a good summary by showing them non-examples so that they don’t make those same mistakes. Some non-examples might include:

  • The summary is too detailed.
  • The summary includes an opinion.
  • The summary did not include the problem.
  • The summary did not include the solution.
  • The summary copied the text.

Inside the summarizing stories mini unit, I also include a sort for students to practice reading summaries and deciding which summary is best and what is wrong with the other summaries.

✨Free Summary checklist✨

Giving students a summary checklist can also help students be sure they are including all parts of the summary. It helps them understand what they SHOULD DO in a summary. You can download this free checklist to share with your students:

If you need more support when it comes to teaching students how to summarize stories, then you will love the Summarizing Stories Reading Mini Unit! It has everything you need to teach students how to summarize with plenty of practice and activities to keep it fun. You can find this unit inside the TLL Membership. This membership includes all of my ELA resources + everything I have ever created. Click the link below to learn more about the TLL Membership:

Or check out the Summarizing Mini Unit below:




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