Summarizing Strategies

Learn about summarizing. Check out several teaching ideas. Download this free activity for students.

Teaching students to summarize text can be one of the most difficult skills you tackle during this school year. This post offers six summarizing strategies to try. It also contains some general rules for students to follow as well as stem questions to look for on tests.

Be sure to download the free printable resources to teach summarizing strategies. 

General Summarizing Rules

How to Write a Summary - Anchor Chart and Printable


  • Highlight topic sentences.
  • Cross out information that is not necessary to understand the passage.
  • Cross out repeated information.
  • In the margin of the piece write categories for lists. For example, baseball, football, and soccer are sports.

Get all printable + digital activities from this post here.

Summarizing Strategies

Strategy #1 Who, What, Where, Why, and How

How to Write a Summary Free Teaching Materials


By answering these 6 questions [5Ws and How], students are forced to focus on the key ideas of a passage. The strategy may be applied to all content areas.

Who is the primary person/character?

What is the most important event or detail? What caused the event to occur?

When did this event take place?

Where did it happen?

Why did it happen? Why did it develop the way it did?

How is this important? OR How is the problem solved? OR How does this affect those involved?

By placing the answers together in a string, students end up with a short paragraph with 2 to 3 sentences. Here is the example from the anchor chart:


Squanto helped the Pilgrims by teaching them how to survive in the Plymouth Colony in the New World after their hard first winter from 1620 to 1621. By teaching the Pilgrims how to grow crops, hunt, and fish the Pilgrims were able to survive.


If you want to learn more about this technique, you might like to check out the Inverted Pyramid Story blog post. It contains 4 printable historical accounts to practice finding the 5 Ws and How.

Strategy #2 Somebody Wanted Because But So

How to Write a Summary Free Teaching Materials

The Somebody Wanted But So Strategy provides a framework for students to summarize events in a story or a historical event by identifying the key elements.

Writing a ‘Somebody Wanted Because But So Then’ statement is a great way to teach students to summarize a short passage.

Start teaching this technique with familiar stories or events from history. Christopher Columbus is a great option. Columbus Day comes near the beginning of the school year. It is observed on the second Monday of October. During your activities to commemorate the arrival of Christopher Columbus in the Americas in 1492, add writing summarizing statements using this technique.

Here is how it works. 

Someone – Character or Figure
Wanted – Goal or Motivation
Because – Reason Why
But – Conflict
So/Then – Resolution or Outcome

Here is the example from the anchor chart:

Someone – Christopher Columbus
Wanted – to find a trade route to India
Because – the current route was long and dangerous
But – he didn’t have men or ships
So – he went to Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand
Then  – set sail for what later became America.

Here is another example from history.

Molly Pitcher wanted to be with her husband but he was called to fight in the Revolutionary War, so she went with him then began volunteering to cook, carry water, and tend the wounded men.

Strategy #3 GIST Summaries
(Generating Interaction between Schemata and Text)

How to Write a Summary Free Teaching Materials

GIST is a summarizing procedure that helps students understand complex texts.

  1. Divide the text into 4 to 5 sections.
  2. Read one section at a time, stopping to write a short summary (20 words or less). These often include the who, what, where, when, why, and how statements for the section. 
  3. Repeat with each section until the entire text is read.
  4. When all sections are completed, students use their statements to generate a longer summary of the text.

Get all printable + digital activities from this post here.

Strategy #4 Webbing

Summarizing Strategies - How to Write a Summary Free Teaching Materials

Webbing is a graphic organizer strategy that provides visual bubbles illustrating how words, phrases, and ideas connect to a topic.

Webbing is one type of semantic map along with the following:

  • timelines
  • Venn diagrams
  • outlines
  • hierarchical organizer

If you want to learn more about semantic mapping, check out this blog post with printable teaching materials.

Strategy #5 Summarizing Strategies using Two-Column Notes

Summarizing Strategies - How to Write a Summary Free Teaching Materials

When using Two-Column Notes, a piece of paper is folded in half forming two columns. The left-hand column is used for outlining the text using broad concepts such as headings and subheadings. The right-hand column is used for supporting details.

Get all printable + digital activities from this post here.

Strategy #6 Summarizing Strategies – Jigsaw Reading

Summarizing Strategies - How to Write a Summary Free Teaching Materials

A text is divided into numbered sections. The class is then numbered with the corresponding numbers. All #1’s form a small group, #2’s form a group, and so on. Members of the small groups read and discuss their assigned section of the text making sure everyone in the group understands the piece well enough to explain it to someone else.

The class then regroups. This time each group contains one #1, one #2, one #3, one #4, and so on. Each member of the new group tells the others in turn about his/her studied section of the text. Basically, the students become teachers explaining the material in the segment that had been read and discussed with the first group to the members of the second group.

Stem Questions for Writing Summaries

Here are a series of questions and instructions you might ask students to help them know that a summary is what they are asked to do:

  • Write a summary.
  • Get to the heart of the matter.
  • Write the key concepts, ideas, or phrases.
  • Sum up the information.
  • What is the gist of the article?

Check out these additional blog posts for summarizing.

Using Animated Shorts to Teach Summarizing – Free printables help students evaluate the animated short.

Learning Log – A Teaching Strategy – This post includes handouts of a $2 Summary, 3-2-1 Strategy, and Square, Triangles, Circle.

Inverted Pyramid Story – This post includes four nonfiction text printables for students to find the main points (Who? What? When? Where? How? Why?) in the opening paragraph or two.

See the product that inspired this post.

Purchase Summarizing Teachers Pay Teachers

This reading skills unit focuses on summarizing. All lessons and activities are provided in both digital and printable formats.   




Click on these buttons to go to other posts in this series.

Teaching Character Traits to Upper Elementary Students

Teaching Story Setting to Upper Elementary Students

Teaching Story Mapping to Upper Elementary Students



Teaching Point of View to Upper Elementary Students

Teaching Perspective to Upper Elementary Students

Teaching Tone vs Mood to Upper Elementary Students


Teaching Plot Development to Upper Elementary Students

Teaching Theme to Upper Elementary Students

Teaching Summarizing to Upper Elementary Students




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1 comment

    • Hayden on June 10, 2015 at 11:25 am

    This article and many other on your website are very interesting.

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