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Stone Hill Elementary School Library: Get to the Point

Essential Question

How can I distill stories and information into summaries?

Lesson 1 - S W B S T

  • Introduction: Ask the students what summarizing is and why it's a good skill to have. Explain that we're going to start with summarizing fiction.
  • Group discussion: Introduce the Somebody / Wanted / But / So / Then framework for summarizing a plot. Show this video to get it stuck in their brains: 

Read We Don't Eat Our Classmates by Ryan T. Higgins. Afterwards, work as a group to summarize it. Who are the "somebodies"? What do they want?  

Next, r
ead Rumpelstiltskin by Paul O. Zelinsky to the students. Before having the students start their summaries, review the list of potential “somebodies” – the girl, the king, Rumpelstiltskin, the miller, and the servant. Some kids will mention the baby, but since he's only a few months old, he doesn't really know what is happening, so don't use him.

  • Individual work: Using this template, students summarize the story. The longer I teach, the fewer kids have any background on the story, so you can play a video version while they work in case they need to go through the plot again.

  • Assessment:

    4 = exceptionally well-written summary that encompasses key plot elements in just a couple of sentences

    3 = all elements within framework included and make sense 

    2 = summary element missing or improperly placed​ (kids often have a problem making the "but" transition)

    1 = student clearly was not listening to the story

Lesson 2 - Main Idea

  • Review: Ask the students what summarizing is and why it's a good skill to have. Ask them what the SWBST method is for fiction. Explain that now we're going to practice summarizing nonfiction ... why can't we use SWBST? (Answer: Unless you are learning about a person or a historical event, there are no characters encountering conflict.)
  • Group discussion: Ask what they already know about main idea and supporting details. (This should NOT be new to them, but they always have a really hard time with this lesson.) Tell them to think of the original text like a wet sponge; you want to squeeze out all the extra details until you're left with the overall point of the information. And we have another song from Jake Scott!

    Practice this concept with these exercises.

    Next, have the class read this article about the giant squid. What is the topic? (colossal squid) What main idea does the author want them to take away about it? That is their assignment. Give them several minutes to write a summary, which should be 1-2 sentences (the worksheet calls for 3-4, but that's too many for an article this short). They can work together for this.

    When time is up, ask for suggested summaries and type them up on the projector. Then have the kids decide whether the sponge needs to be squeezed out more. Or if the sponge is even there or fell in the sink. (Often kids will seize upon the first sentence as the main idea just because it is there at the front.)


  • Individual workHand out this article about the mimic octopus (my new favorite animal!). Again, they can do it in 1-2 sentences v. 3-4.

  • Assessment:

    4 = main idea stated along with the benefits it holds

    3 = main idea stated 

    2 = main idea included, but with way too many details

    1 = student did not find the main idea at all

  • Video: Behold, the mimic octopus.



Lesson 3 - Summarizing a Nonfiction Book

  • Review: Ask the students the standard RICBA questions: How many books are on the list? (20) How many do you need to read to vote? (3)  Pass out the RICBA summary sheets so everyone has one before you start reading; explain that they can take notes on the back. 
  • Readaloud: Read Bartali's Bicycle.
  • Assessment: 

    4 = main idea stated along with how the bike fit in

    3 = main idea stated 

    2 = main idea included, but with way too many details

    1 = student did not find the main idea at all

Standards Addressed

AASL: I.B.3 - Learners engage with new knowledge by following a process that includes generating products that illustrate learning; I.C.1 - Learners adapt, communicate, and exchange learning products with others in a cycle that includes interacting with content presented by others; III.D.1 - Learners actively participate with others in learning situations by actively contributing to group discussions; IV.B.4 - Learners gather information appropriate to the task by organizing information by priority, topic, or other systematic scheme.

Common Core: RL.4.2 - Summarize the text; RL.4.6 - Compare and contrast the point of view from which different stories are narrated; SL.5.2 - Summarize a written text read aloud

Rhode Island Cross-Curricular Proficiencies: Communication - Communicate understanding and interpretation of information; Problem Solving and Critical Thinking - Implement a plan or process of approach using tools and information.

Rhode Island School Library Curriculum Priority Skills: 1.1 - Summarizes information; states the main idea with some supporting details; 3.2 - Actively contributes to group discussions