5 Easy Summarizing Strategies for Students

Easy Summarizing Strategies
milanvirijevic / Getty Images

Summarizing means identifying the main idea and most important facts, then writing a brief overview that includes only those key ideas and details. Summarizing is a vital skill for students to learn, but many students find it difficult to pick out the important facts without providing too much detail.

A good summary is short and to the point. The following easy summarizing strategies will help your students choose the correct details from the text and write about them clearly and concisely.

01
of 05

Somebody Wanted But So Then

“Somebody Wanted But So Then” is an excellent summarizing strategy for stories. Each word represents a key question related to the story's essential elements:

  • Somebody: Who is the story about?
  • Wanted: What does the main charter want?
  • But: Identify a problem that the main character encountered.
  • So: How does the main character solve the problem?
  • Then: Tell how the story ends.

Here is an example of this strategy in action:

  • Somebody: Little Red Riding Hood
  • Wanted: She wanted to take cookies to her sick grandmother.
  • But: She encountered a wolf pretending to be her grandmother.
  • So: She ran away, crying for help.
  • Then: A woodsman heard her and saved her from the wolf.

After answering the questions, combine the answers to form a summary:

Little Red Riding Hood wanted to take cookies to her sick grandmother, but she encountered a wolf. He got to her grandmother’s house first and pretended to be the old woman. He was going to eat Little Red Riding Hood, but she realized what he was doing and ran away, crying for help. A woodsman heard the girl’s cries and saved her from the wolf.
02
of 05

SAAC Method

The SAAC method is another useful technique for summarizing any kind of text (story, article, speech, etc). SAAC is an acronym for "State, Assign, Action, Complete." Each word in the acronym refers to a specific element that should be included in the summary.

  • State: name of the article, book, or story
  • Assign: the name of the author
  • Action: what the author is doing (example: tells, explains)
  • Complete: complete the sentence or summary with keywords and important details

This method is particularly helpful for students who are learning the format of a summary and need reminders to include the title and author's name. However, SAAC does not include clear guidance about which details to include, which some students might find tricky. If you use SAAC with your students, remind them of the types of details that belong in a summary before instructing them to work independently.

Here is an example of SAAC in action:

  • State: The Boy Who Cried Wolf
  • Assign: Aesop (a Greek storyteller)
  • Action: tells
  • Complete: what happens when a shepherd boy repeatedly lies to the villagers about seeing a wolf

Use the four SAAC cues to write out a summary of "The Boy Who Cried Wolf" in complete sentences:

The Boy Who Cried Wolf, by Aesop (a Greek storyteller), tells what happens when a shepherd boy repeatedly lies to the villagers about seeing a wolf. After a while, they ignore his false cries. Then, when a wolf really does attack, they don’t come to help him.
03
of 05

5 W's, 1 H

The 5 W's, 1 H strategy relies on six crucial questions: who, what, when, where, why, and how. These questions make it easy to identify the main character, the important details, and the main idea.

  • Who is the story about?
  • What did they do?
  • When did the action take place?
  • Where did the story happen?
  • Why did the main character do what he/she did?
  • How did the main character do what he/she did?

Try this technique with a familiar fable such as "The Tortoise and the Hare."

  • Who? The tortoise
  • What? He raced a quick, boastful hare and won.
  • When? When isn’t specified in this story, so it’s not important in this case.
  • Where? An old country road
  • Why? The tortoise was tired of hearing the hare boast about his speed.
  • How? The tortoise kept up his slow but steady pace.

Then, use the answers to the 5 W's and 1 H to write a summary of in complete sentences.

Tortoise got tired of listening to Hare boast about how fast he was, so he challenged Hare to a race. Even though he was slower than Hare, Tortoise won by keeping up his slow and steady pace when Hare stopped to take a nap.
04
of 05

First Then Finally

The "First Then Finally" technique helps students summarize events in chronological order. The three words represent the beginning, main action, and conclusion of a story, respectively:

  • First. What happened first? Include the main character and main event/action.
  • Then. What key details took place during the event/action?
  • Finally. What were the results of the event/action?

Here is an example using "Goldilocks and the Three Bears."

First, Goldilocks entered the bears' home while they were gone. Then, she ate their food, sat in their chairs, and slept in their beds. Finally, she woke up to find the bears watching her, so she jumped up and ran away.
05
of 05

Give Me the Gist

When someone asks for "the gist" of a story, they want to know what the story is about. In other words, they want a summary—not a retelling of every detail. To introduce the gist method, explain that summarizing is just like giving a friend the gist of a story, and have your students tell each other about their favorite books or movies in 15 seconds or less. You can use the gist method as a fun, quick way to practice summarizing on a regular basis.