Summarizing Made Easy - Reading Test Prep Strategies (2023)


Summarizing can be so difficult for some upper elementary students to grasp! I think you’ll agree with me when I say,

…some tests (including STAAR) can cause headaches when they ask students to summarize text!

It has to be this way, right?

Or does it?

Summarizing Made Easy - Reading Test Prep Strategies (1)

I’m going to show you how reading teachers successfully teach summarizing using scaffolded questioning strategies – without the headaches of traditional test prep!

Teaching Resources that Don’t Scaffold Summarizing Skills

You’ve probably seen the questions with your textbook, from TeachersPayTeachers, or from worksheet publishers…they have a long passage and only ONE SUMMARIZING Question!

Or they offer quick practice with a short phrase for a summary. Like only two to four words.

The problem is that these types of resources don’t reflect the lengthy thought processes behind actual summarizing. Students need focused practice with the comprehension skills that actually support summarizing.

For example, look at the five-finger summary:

Summarizing Made Easy - Reading Test Prep Strategies (2)

The Five-Finger Summary is a great place to start teaching summarizing, but it’s not the end goal. It doesn’t cover the complexity students encounter in upper 3rd-grade and higher-level texts.

Students need more.

Students Need Focused Practice

These arenot authentic summarizing practice…especially not for rigorous tests like STAAR Reading!

Students need focused practice to master summarizing! Focused practice means students should repeatedly be asked these foundational skills:

  • Paraphrasing
  • Discussing key ideas and central themes
  • Prioritizing important vs nonimportant details
'Great teaching resources make rigor relevant, and learning engaging!'Click To Tweet

Teaching Resources that Support Learning How to Summarize

Imagine if you could have teaching resources that are rigorous, relevant to students, and actually are aligned to your tests or STAAR prep!

It’s not enough just to have students practice writing a summary. It must be broken down into steps that students can master.

So is there a teaching resource that can make summarizing easier for students to learn?

There is! I’m going to walk you through some summarizing task cards that step upto the needs for test prep and STAAR review.

But first a first, here are two simple secrets to teaching summarizing, so students actually get it.

Teaching Summarizing Skills

Early elementary teachers seem to do a great job of teaching the concept of beginning, middle, and end. If not, most students grasp it quite quickly with one or two mini-lessons.

If you ask most beginning of the year 3rd-graders what BME is, they can say, “Beginning, Middle, End.”

But where do we go from there? What else is summarizing?

Secret #1: Make Summaries Simple

Distill this complex skill down into two main ingredients: Problem and Solution.

When summarizing fiction, keep it as simple as that – problem and solution.

3rd, 4th, and 5th-grade students will easily understand this concept. With a little practice, they grasp it quite well!

After mastering this secret, take your students to the next level byGetting Detailed.

Secret #2: Scaffold Your Summarizing Questions

Don’t practice the skill in its full complexity! It creates failure and frustration.

The key is scaffolding!

Use teaching resources that break summaries into their component parts. These types of resources guide students along the right path of thinking.

Scaffolding is about guiding thinking, not minimizing learning.

  • Start with questions that ask about paraphrasing main events (i.e. “what happened?” “what happened after?”)
  • Then use more general paraphrasing questions such as, “What was this paragraph about?”
  • Finally ask specifically about the problem or conflict. Then ask about the solution or resolution.

These types of questions build the sub-skills needed for the larger skill of summarizing a plot.

(For more details, seeScaffolding Early Readers in Guided Reading)

Summarizing Task Cards that Make it Simple!

So does it have to be a headache to teach summarizing?

No, it doesn’t.

It turns out, your teaching resources really matter with this skill…

…the resource must follow the simple secrets to summarizing listed above. Look at the task card below to see how this works.

Summarizing Made Easy - Reading Test Prep Strategies (3)
'My class started using these today. There are so many options and ways to use them!' -Jessica C.Click To Tweet

How do these Summarizing Task Cards Scaffold Learning?

  • The card has a grade-appropriate text.
  • There is a non-threatening open-ended question.
  • The question is scaffolded, which means it is necessary to answer before finding the best summary.
  • Then, students use that scaffolding to find the best summary in a test prep (STAAR Review) format.

Students often say with these task cards, “That was easy!”

Don’t be worried…

…it wasn’t easy, they just received the right amount of support.

Take a look at your state assessments (i.e. STAAR Reading), and you will find similar plots and identical question stems. This is not easy, but it is…

…aligned, rigorous, and engaging!

'I used these today in my small groups. They worked great!' -Megan G.Click To Tweet

Summarizing Test Prep in Different Formats

You’ve undoubtedly noticed that tests present information for students in tricky and uncommon ways. Have you noticed students can summarize a story to you orally, but they might be tricked on a test question about summarizing?

Why is that?

It’s usually not due to basic reading skills…though they do need to be there.

It is because multiple-choice summary questions are not just about how to summarize – they are about how to analyze the distinctions between different summaries. They are designed to evaluate whether a student knows the difference between a good summary and a bad summary.

Students have to be skillful at summarizing in any format…

…and the teaching resources need to challenge students in a variety of formats!

I’m going to present summarizing task cards to you, so you can view how scaffolding is embedded in different formats.

Summarizing in Different Formats

The key to test prep (especially STAAR Reading review) is variety. Different genres, different types of questions, scaffolding

Summarizing Made Easy - Reading Test Prep Strategies (4)

…a straightforward plot allows students to practice the skill of identifying problem and solution.

“My class started using these today. There are so many options and ways to use them!” -Jessica C.

Practice Using Plot Diagrams

Summarizing Made Easy - Reading Test Prep Strategies (5)

The plot diagram helps students visualize the main events and then distinguish between good and bad summaries. These are critical thinking skills!

Practice using Sequencing Graphic Organizers

Summarizing Made Easy - Reading Test Prep Strategies (6)

“My class loved using these!” -Natalie Asbury

These are similar to plot diagrams, but sequencing graphic organizers focus on the order of main events.

It’s a different thinking skill.

Students have to use the order of events to determine the problem and solution. Then they can find the summary that best represents the plot.

For some students, these types of task cards are a little more complex than the plot diagrams. And they build great scaffolding for the test-style summaries students will encounter.

Give Your Students the Practice that Gets Results!

Thousands of upper elementary teachers are using these summarizing task cards. Here are a few of the results.

“Great for workstations and exit tickets!” -Ms. W Creative Little Learners (TPT Seller)

“This resource is great practice!” -Stacy B.

I’ve tried to show how to teach summarizing for test prep and STAAR Review. But really, these teachers sum it up with their own results…

“I needed to find something like this!”

Christie G

“These were perfect for my reading stations!”

Shelby W.

“I used these today in my small groups. They worked great!”

Megan G.

“I’m extremely happy to find something aligned to STAAR! It goes well with the question stems I have posted in my classroom!” –

Elmer N.

It’s my hope that you’ll agree, great teaching resources make rigor relevant, and learning engaging! Even with the complex skills of summarizing – you can teach summarizing test prep, without a headache.

Browse these Summarizing Teaching Resources at TeachersPayTeachers.

If you enjoyed the strategies here or think a friend would like to know about them, please consider sharing using the buttons below!


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