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Quick Tip: 2 Engaging Summary Writing Activities
by Katie Mitchell

Writing summaries is an important way for students, at any level, to demonstrate their understanding of both English and content knowledge, yet it can be difficult. Research suggests there are several key strategies students can use to write a summary, including selecting, deleting, reorganizing, and paraphrasing ideas (Jordan, 2001). These strategies might seem simple, but it’s often a struggle to teach summary writing. To address this common issue, following are two engaging activities that help students write accurate, effective summaries.

1. Blackout Summaries

This activity is inspired by blackout poetry, in which poets cross out words from a text to create their own unique piece. It encourages students to focus on deleting ideas from a reading, rather than selecting them, in order to prepare for summary writing.

To do the blackout summary activity, students follow these steps:

  1. Read an article for homework.

  2. Get into pairs in class.

  3. Black out all the unimportant words in pairs: The remaining text should ideally be comprehensible and may even be grammatically correct, but it should not contain any fully intact original sentences.

  4. Compare their blacked-out readings with another pair.

  5. Delete more words based on their group discussions.

  6. Write a summary in their own words based on the blacked out article.

This creative activity gives students a fresh perspective. They begin to analyze the text in a new way and notice superfluous adjectives and details. The example (Figure 1) from CALL Environments, a professional development resource by Egbert and Hanson-Smith (2007), demonstrates this process of whittling away at the selected sentences, finding the gist.

This blackout task also makes it easier for students to paraphrase in their summaries because they have removed large chunks, making plagiarism less likely.

2. Match the Summary Activity

The second activity asks student pairs to read two similar readings and write a summary of one, and, after eliminating obvious clues, have their classmates attempt to match the summary to the correct reading. By summarizing one of two texts that are very similar, students focus on finding important details and identifying the author’s point of view.

Provide students with two readings on similar topics. They should be different in one major way. Then, have students do the following:

  1. Read one article and work in pairs to write a summary of the article.

  2. Skim the other article.

  3. Make edits to their summaries, realizing that their original summary might be too general.

  4. Cross out the major differences (e.g., city names) in their summaries to make the next step of matching the summaries to the correct reading more difficult and share their summaries anonymously with other students.

  5. Encourage students to guess which reading the summary describes.

For this activity, I’ve used, for example, two readings in Reading Explorer 2 by MacIntyre and Bohlke (2015); the readings are about the underground systems in Paris and New York City. Both readings involve exploring underground, but the explorers make very different discoveries.

Other resources for paired readings include ESL textbook series, like Reading Explorer and Making Connections, and websites, like NewsELA’s Text Sets. By using paired readings, students realize that their summaries can’t be too general and that they must focus on the author’s purpose. This playful activity also gives students a genuine audience for their writing, helping them understand the importance of specificity and clarity in their summaries, thereby encouraging reflection and revision.

Hopefully, these two activities inspire you to inject creativity into your summary writing instruction.

References

Egbert, J., & Hanson-Smith, E. (2007). CALL environments: Research, practice, and critical issues (2nd ed.). Alexandria, VA: Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages.

Jordan, M. P. (2001). Summary writing strategies based on discourse structures, relevance theory and kernel preservation. Canadian Journal for Studies in Discourse and Writing/Rédactologie, 17(1), 28–66.

MacIntyre, P. & Bohlke, D. (2015). Reading explorer 2 (2nd ed.). Boston, MA: National Geographic Learning.

 


Katie Mitchell is the reading/writing curriculum coordinator at University of Colorado Boulder’s International English Center. She is interested in curriculum development, computer-assisted language learning, writing instruction, game-based learning, and English for specific purposes. Katie has presented internationally on these topics and has worked on large-scale curriculum projects, including an online business English product and an Xbox game. She has taught in Albania, Germany, Thailand, and the United States.

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