How to Summarize

As I've posted before, I really want to work on summarizing concepts and actually closing each lesson. I decided to start school by teaching some skills in isolation and today I taught how to summarize. I taught this lesson in every subject and I thought it went really well. My timing was amazing, down to the last minute of class. The principal even walked in my Geometry class of 28 and told me later that he didn't know what I was doing but every eye was on me. I've had a really positive day today so of course I couldn't wait to share it with you!

Here is the handout. I'll just make a list of how everything went down.

I started by asking students to do #1 and #2 and then stop.

#1 asks students to look at  a car accident and write down what they would say when they called 911.

#2 asked students to write the storyline of a Disney movie.

I asked volunteers to read their 911 calls out loud and we talked about what was important to share: the location, how bad the accident is, how many people are involved and what was not important to share: color of the car, etc. I asked volunteers to read their Disney story and then asked why #2 was longer than #1. Here is where we really started to separate explaining and summarizing.

#3 asks students to summarize their Disney story in 25 words or less. We made that a competition to see who could do it in the least amount of words. Then we discussed how a summary is the "911" version of the storyline.

Right about this time I asked the class if the thought had crossed anyone's mind "What does this have to do with math?" and it was almost an audible sigh of relief for everyone to realize they were thinking the same thing. So I threw out my 'cup of water' analogy about summarizing being a skill that helps seal knowledge into your brain. I also talked about how difficult it is to ask someone for directions who doesn't really know how to get there and the idea that if you can't explain something then you don't have a really good grasp on the concept itself.  And we continue on.

#4 asks students to compare explaining and summarizing using a Venn diagram (which will flow nicely into tomorrow's compare and contrast lesson) that fortunately, most students were familiar with.
 #5 asks students to list the steps of how to explain and how to summarize with the main difference being that an explanation describes step-by-step and a summary describes the main idea.
 #6 asks students to apply these skills to math. We explain step-by-step how to solve the problem and then write a summary of how to solve any problem like it. What we are really doing is generalizing, which is a difficult skill for students, but I felt like by separating these two skills that students really got a clear picture of how and why to do both skills.
#7 introduces a new (to me) method for summarizing, PEEL, which applies really well to math. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to @malynmawby for sharing this with me- just since reading this last night it's started to shape the way I want to teach this year.

#8 asks the students to apply this method to a problem on the board (I didn't want to put a problem on the back of the sheet so I just wrote it on the board). I used an area of a rectangle problem where the width is missing because I needed something basic that could apply to all classes. We went through each step of PEEL in the table. When we got to L for link, I explained how the brain creates new dendrites off of old ones so we are always looking for a connection to something we already know.

And that was the end. I'm sure it got boring toward the end but the first three problems really hooked them and got class off to a good start. There are skills I want students to do and do well throughout the year so I think it will greatly pay off to invest this time now in relating it to what they do in English and showing how it applies in math. Of course I will continue to model these strategies as we start digging into the math but I'm feeling really confident that the strategies I'm focusing on will pay big dividends in student learning.

Here is the accompanying PowerPoint presentation. (Does anyone else have to spell check PowerPoint so the stupid red squiggly goes away? Ugh.)

Bottom line is that I felt like I did a really solid job of teaching a useful skill, explaining the purpose behind it, and applying it. That's what every day should feel like.


  1. This is awesome! I forwarded it onto the Resource Reading teacher that I work with.

    Also, on the powerpoint issue, you can right click the word and choose either "Ignore Once" to get rid of the line for that time or "Add to Dictionary" for it to not show on that word again.


  2. Great lesson! I really like PEEL and I'll try it with my classes. I like how the lesson gave everyone an entry point they could be successful with. How did the students deal with the difference between explaining and summarizing? I'm thinking that my sixth graders might find that a bit difficult to explain. I would love to see some examples of student work!

    1. Angie,
      We did most of the handout as a class so I really led the students through the difference between explaining and summarizing. The main difference they noticed was that explaining tells the process step-by-step and summarizing tells the main idea of the process.

      I think it became very clear when we did the math example. We wrote step-by-step including numbers how to solve that exact problem. Then for the summary, we wrote how to solve any problem like it, so we generalized the process without numbers. That's where the difference was easier to see.