Creating a summary

The 2014 National Curriculum demands in Yr5 and 6 that children learn to summarise. I have for sometime wondered about the need for this but understand that it is a skill often used in academia amongst other places. I have always thought of it more in terms of reading, used to demonstrate understanding of the key ideas or concepts.

As we have been demonstrating and talking about Reciprocal Reading much more recently, I have investigated summarising in more detail in order that we can develop more activities based around it. Much to my delight, it has also meant buying many more children’s books as there is a rich seam of summaries of classics, in particular, out there.  The steps to summarising are:

  1. read and understand the text
  2. identify the main points and key ideas
  3. create your own sentence/sentences to express the information in their own words

Three steps which look quite small but require a lot of readers.

Step 1

This is actually the crux of the matter in reading.  The skills or strategies that we can use to help us understand the text are clarifying and questioning.  Clarifying identifies the parts of the text that are ‘reluctant to yield their meaning’ (Doug Lemov in Reconsidering Reading). Children use the clues in the text along with re-reading, reading on and going back and re-reading slowly to problem-solve and debug the issue.  Questioning where the children generate their own questions helps to identify key bits of information that could be included in a summary.

Step 2

This can be really challenging for children but there are some things that we can teach them.  Firstly, delete trivial information or redundant information or that which is not necessary by actually crossing it out.  This will leave what is deemed important.

Teach children how to use superordinates and/or paraphrasing. Superordinates can be used for lists, e.g dogs, cats and goldfish can be referred to as pets. Paraphrasing refers to the skill of taking some words and using synonyms or other words to refer to key ideas or events. Children can do this by circling words and phrases in the text and then labelling them with a synonyms or putting the ideas into their own words (fewer).

A topic sentence can be identified to support a summary. Not all paragraphs have one so where one is not available, creation of one is a key strategy. This is taught in writing in Yr3 and 4. It is almost impossible to create them in writing if they have not been studied in reading.  They are often more visible in non-fiction and so this might be the first place to find them when teaching and then move into narrative.

Step 3

Now pull together all the words/phrases/ideas and put them into your own words. Another form of paraphrasing.

These summaries can the be presented in a variety of ways. I have found the following books really useful as models of summaries.

unfoldedClassics Unfolded are a fantastic model of summarising. They are based on much longer novels and you wouldn’t start with these but they include a paraphrased couple of sentences for each significant event. Each page has a quote to back up the paraphrasing and an image that an illustrator has created around the text. For children the classics are The Secret Garden and Alice in Wonderland. Children could however, create one of these for any novel you read in guided or independent sessions.






shorttooThis book is a follow-up to the very successful Short by Kevin Crossley-Holland. The story in this book that I am most interested in is ‘In Your Dreams’. In this story, most words have been deleted apart from the nouns.  Try this on another text to see if it really does yield the main points or key ideas.




babylitThis book contains the nouns or main characters such as the sailors, captain, waves and stars with a small quotation from the original book to back up the choice of word. I love it!




starwars cozyclassicsThese books both work in the same way with just individual words to sum up parts of the story. These are from Cozy Classics including the Star Wars series from the same company. They are 12 worded, felt classics! Which do you think the following story is?














But perhaps the best and the most random is the babylit counting books.

counting babylitcountingpride

These just make me laugh! Who could resist Les Mis for toddlers?






Have you taught summarising? How did you do it?




Inference – the Jam in the Doughnut: Reciprocal Reading – Part 1

I don’t know how many of you are familiar with reciprocal reading but it is a well-researched method of teaching reading comprehension.  The researchers Palincsar and Brown developed the idea and their work is very accessible on the internet, including long term studies.

Reciprocal reading focuses on four key strageies that are predicting, clarifying, questioning and summarising but which need to be taught within the context of a rich reading curriculum.

We use our  doughnut of reading to try and explain this.

jammy donutIn this diagram we acknowledge that whatever we do in  reading we must allow children time for personal response and time to develop their own reading habits.

The next layer is the dough and this is generally the knowledge or content that we teach in shared and guided reading when we focus on the elements of character, organisational features etc.

But we are still not quite at the jammy heart!  In fact we need to focus on some key skills or strategies and they are the ones that reciprocal reading identifies as being core skills: predicting, clarifying, questioning and summarising.  These can help direct us to the jam.

The next few posts will consider what we can do to teach these four key skills and how we can develop them in our teaching contexts.

For an overview of strategies that can be used to develop reciprocal reading see the blog post  Reading with Meaning

Have you tried reciprocal reading?  How do you organise it?

If you would like to experience reciprocal reading and find out more about the key skills come and join us on the 24th November.

Reading with Meaning

We have been talking with teachers recently about teaching children how to make meaning from texts, often because there are children in the class who are finding it more challenging to infer when reading.

Good readers use a range of strategies and we need to model a wide range  such as activiating prior knowledge, generating own questions, making connections, visualising, knowing how words work, monitoring for sense, summarising and evaluating.  This site shows how these skills can be developed in the classroom with many thanks to @tombarrett for sharing .

Reciprocal reading is a well-researched programme that takes the four skills of predicting, clarifying, questioning and summarising and shows children how to use them when reading in order that they make the most meaning that they can.  On our last reciprocal reading course we generated a list of ways in which these skills could be used so that it doesn’t always feel like you are doing the same thing over and over again.  Below are the suggestions with many thanks to the teachers who attended.

Predicting – this is frequently done using the front cover of a book but can also be undertaken during reading.  The research suggests that children draw very heavily on pictures to help with this strategy and also that the title of the text is a very important signpost.  The suggestions were:

  • Use some images from the text and the title to predict what it might be about
  • Use one key image from the text to generate ideas about the text
  • Generate a list of words that you might expect to find in this text
  • Craft a sentence which says ‘I predict that this book will be about ……. because………..’  The putting of ideas into a sentence is crucial as it forces us to order our thoughts and put them together coherently
  • Reveal a paragraph at a time and predict what the next paragraph might be about.  This can also be done sentence by sentence on a very short piece of text.
  • Using a wordle of the first paragraph/chapter and trying to identify what the text might be about

Clarifying is where children try and work out what things might mean when they were confused.  This can happen at word, sentence, paragraph and whole text level.  Many children will focus upon words here so we will need to model needing to make sense out of larger chunks of text.

  • Rereading the puzzling part of the text and reading around it
  • Using knowledge of words to help identify meaning, e.g. I know what medicine is so I can guess what medication is.  But this also moves into signposts in language such being able to generate synonyms, knowing what connectives such as on the other hand, or and because mean.  This is an enormous area and is one reason why word level work is not just about spelling but also about how words work and their meaning.  Online programmes can support this type of work such as Wordnik or Visuwords.

Questioning – this is where children generate questions that can be answered from the text and is not teachers about teachers having a prepared set of questions that will help children understand the text better.

  • Start this activity on small parts of the text and then build up to the questions being about the whole text.  I have had to start on just one sentence with some groups of children and then move on from there.
  • Teach children how to identify key words in a sentence/piece of text and then attach question words to the information.  For example if the key words are River Exe, starts at Simonsbath, Exmoor can we start a question off with who?  Why not?  Can we use when?
  • Encourage children to generate as many questions as possible.  This means that they will start with the obvious ones and then move on and will without knowing it eventually move into inferential and evluative questions.
  • Team games can be played where other teams have to answer the questions.  The children must know where the answers to their questions are in the text.  Again ask for the answers in sentences so that children can see how the question and answers contain many words that are the same.

The purpose of this type of activity is not really in the answering of the questions but in the generation of them.  When children are doing this they are once again discussing their understanding of the text.

Summarising again demands that children explore what is important information in the text and what is not, helping them to make more/clearer meaning.  Different ways in which this can be done are:

  • In 2 or 3 sentences
  • Using autosummarise in word and seeing what happens each time, discussing whether the meaning is maintained
  • Creating a blurb such as that on the back of a book or in the review section of the television programmes
  • Creating a sub-heading for each paragraph
  • Drawing a story map of the text
  • Tell the text in six words

What has worked for your children?

Other posts about reading .

Developing Reading Comprehension

Yesterday I worked with a group of teachers thinking about developing children’s inference skills.  As we talked about the range of strategies that we needed to offer in our classrooms, I was reminded once again of the power of synonyms in reading.  I quite often see synonyms being taught for writing purposes, e.g. other words for ‘said’ but rarely for reading purposes.

Coherence inference looks at how we make sense of a text as we move through it; how pronouns link back to nouns and how we use anaphoric reference, in other words how we use synonyms to refer to objects or people throughout a text so that we don’t repeat the same word or phrase. For instance the text might mention ‘the ship’ towards the beginning and then move onto ‘this vessel’, we might have tigers, big cats and  these animals. In both these instances as we move through the text the synonym becomes less precise or more generic. This can also be linked to antonyms which are opposites. I remember my class sitting an end of KS2 reading test and thinking if only they understood the title of the reading paper ‘Friend or Foe’ they would get so much more understanding out of it.

So, how can we help children extend their understanding of synonyms?

  • One of the first places I would explore with children is a thesaurus.  Have a look at the synonyms for the noun ship in the concept thesarus
  • collect synonyms and order them along a continuum.  These could then be recorded on those paint sample cards to show degrees of intensity.  What order would you put these synonyms for cold; arctic, bitter, chilly, brisk, nippy?
  • There are several games that are worthwhile for children to play try here and here
  • for a get up and go game give each child a piece of paper with a word at the top.  Everyone writes one synonym for that word on their piece of paper and then on the say so all move seats and write a synonym on the piece of paper they are now sitting at.  Keep going for as many moves as possible. Go back to original word and share the synonyms with a partner.
  • Using non-chronological reports, text mark all words used to refer to the object that the report is about.  For example on this great website there are several synonyms for lions in the first snippet of information. However in the longer text, which you can see as you scroll down, the word lions is used each time they are referred to.  For me as a reader it feels a bit clunky.