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Saturday, February 1, 2014

Writing a Summary

Summarizing can be so B-O-R-I-N-G! How can teachers give it a little kick?

My students had just finished reading By Freedom's Light, written by Elizabeth O'Maley. The materials for our summarizing activity (CCSS RL.4.2) stared up at me:

I was happy with the first sheet, but the second was just another blank page (that I jazzed up a bit with some clip art). My fourth graders would be less than thrilled, and I wasn't really looking forward to grading them either.

What could I do to spice up this activity? Since they love to collaborate, I thought about completing the first page in groups of three. Yes, that would work. They could debate about the central problem (Sarah hated her stepmother or Sarah faced a moral dilemma on the issue of abolition) and main events. That would get them involved and thinking.

Still, the second sheet seemed too dull. Then it struck me---focus on different purposes for summarizing! I decided to give each student a role: a critic writing a book review, a blogger offering a summary, and a publisher penning a book promo.

I held my breath as my students tackled this activity. Once everyone had settled into their groups, the debating began, just as I anticipated. They haggled (and used rocks-paper-scissors) to determine who got which role then began writing their summaries with enthusiasm. It worked! 

Reminder to self: even the most dreary lesson can be given new life when students are given opportunities to collaborate and choose.

In closing, I'd like to recommend By Freedom's Light for your fourth, fifth, or sixth grade classroom. Set in the mid-1800's near Richmond, Indiana, this little-known historical fiction novel draws the reader into the life of Sarah, a girl struggling with legal and moral implications of slavery, abolition, and especially the Underground Railroad. As a bonus, the Indiana Historical Society has posted a free 55-page novel unit by Nicole Meyers. It offers oodles of excellent activities. Enjoy!