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Summarizing in Fiction

Does summarizing make you want to pull your hair out? How many times have you shouted to kids, “JUST THE IMPORTANT PARTS!” while sobbing over a stack of copied ‘responses’ taken verbatim from the text? 
Well, yeah, summarizing is hard. But if we can give kids tools and a focus, we can help them be far more successful when it comes to fiction summarizing. 
Summarizing requires kids to understand the text structure, determine what’s important, and write it in a logical way. Yikes; we’re asking a lot from some of our struggling readers. Without the proper scaffolding, they’re really going to be playing a guessing game. 
Over the last couple years, I’ve put together a strategy that has been very supportive of our kids, able and struggling readers alike. This is it:


Ok, so maybe it doesn’t look like much. But trust me, I no longer tear out my hair for lack of decent summaries! 
It all starts with identifying the important events in the plot. You can read about what we did to scaffold students’ understanding of the plot’s main events here, in my post about The Sweetest Fig. 
From there, we identified these four out of the five elements of the plot:
Main Character
Outcome/Lesson Learned
All of these elements are written on colored index cards on a pocket chart. We consistently use the same colors so students will be able to use this system independently. This chart will stay up for as long as we learn about fiction, in order to help students recall the important elements to summarize.
Each team received one sentence strip to create a complete sentence to represent their assigned element. These are the sentences they came up with to summarize the plot’s main events from The Sweetest Fig.


In case you can’t read it, it says, “Mr. Bibot is disrespectful to Marcel the dog. Mr. Bibot wants money. Bibot received special figs, (we verbally added the following) that he wanted to use to be the richest man in the world. But then, Marcel ate the last fig! Marcel’s dream came true instead of Bibot’s. Lesson Learned: Treat other people the way you want to be treated.
It’s far from beautiful, but it includes the important elements, in a logical order! Now it’s easy to do some basic revising and include some transition words to write a great summary!
But here’s the tricky part. We teach kids to create a summary based on something they’ve read. This is an essential and invaluable skill. But then, when we test them, we do it differently. They have to find the best summary out of four versions. 
This is very different from what we’ve asked them to do, and it can be hard for students who are struggling or not as sophisticated in their thinking to make the connection. So this is how I bridge it:
Do you see on the right side of the picture where there are four different paragraphs, all colored up? Those are four different summary versions for The Sweetest Fig. I wrote them myself 🙂 One of them is the BEST, that is, it is the most complete and most accurate, compared to the other summaries – the other three are lacking something, so are NOT the best. 
To have students evaluate these summaries, I asked each student in each group to decide which element they were going to hunt for and grab that colored marker. Some had more than one element. They read through the summary as a group and marked their evidence for each element in the summary. If their element was missing from the summary, they made a little note on the bottom of the page. After they marked up each of the four summaries, they decided which was the BEST summary. Students were very successful with this scaffolding!


This 5 element strategy lines up very well with the Somebody Wanted But So Then strategy; they both represent similar elements!
Fisher-Reyna on TPT have some handy free tools to help you teach these elements of fiction as well.

And one of the folded flapbooks in my brand-new fiction lapbook is all about the elements of fiction! It’s only $2.00 at TPT!

Check them out!

Happy Teaching!

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