Summarizing Fiction

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Now that we’ve covered determining importance and summarizing nonfiction, let’s talk about summarizing strategies for fiction.

This is SO hard for those natural retellers who want to tell you every last detail of the story. That’s why summarizing has to be taught, modeled, and practiced. A lot.

Flow Maps

Flow maps are thinking maps for sequencing the main events in a story.

For the youngest learners, use the flow maps to write or draw about the beginning, middle and end of a story.

In a cookie recipe, you can talk about the steps in making the cookies. First, add the flour. Next, add the sugar. And so on.

summarizing strategies

Some teachers like to use flow maps for fiction with the following word prompts:

Somebody . . .

wanted . . .

but . . .

so . . .

Use a familiar fairy tale to model this. (When I say model, I’m talking about an interactive dialogue where you teach and converse with your kids. Make sure you share your thinking out loud, “I’m thinking that. . . “)

Or, read a wordless picture book to model this.

OR Write the 4 Ws

Another way to help kids summarize fiction is to write down the 4 (of 5) Ws. Use a familiar fairy tale story such as The Three Little Pigs. Tell kids that you’re going to write down 4 of the 5 Ws, skipping the Why: Who, What (problem / solution?), When, Where. 

Three Little Pigs, Wolf

Wolf wants to eat the pigs.

Each pig builds house to keep safe: straw, sticks, and brick. Wolf tries to blow down houses to get the pigs but the brick house works to keep the wolf out.

When and where:
(Skip this as it’s not important for The Three Little Pigs.)

summarizing strategies

NOW Summarize in Sentences

After you complete the thinking map OR write down words summarizing each the 4 Ws, show kids how you use the information to write a summary in 5 sentences or less.

Summary example:
The wolf wants to blow the pigs houses down so he can eat them. Each pig builds a house – one of straw, one of sticks, and one of bricks. The wolf blows down the straw and stick house but the pigs all stay safe in the house of bricks.

Practice Summarizing

Keep working with your kids to practice summarizing. This needs repetition and to be distinguished from retelling. Many times!

Practice ideas:

1. Keep a reading journal with the date, title, and a summary of what you read each day.  Don’t do this forever because it’s very cumbersome and makes reading not much fun — but do for a few weeks until kids get the hang of it.

2. Read picture books and together practice summarizing using the 4Ws and 4sentences or less.

3. Exaggerate a story retelling getting wild with every detail. Then compare that with summarizing in just a few sentences.


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