So you want to write a summary?

Writing Tutorial

So you want to write a summary?


For a student who is only just beginning to read and write, writing a summary can be baffling. Often, a beginning student will just rewrite everything they read (sometimes word for word), or forget everything they’ve read before they have a chance to write a summary. The latter is precisely why they need a summary- reading comprehension! So, lets get started with some easy questions that your student can start answering as they start reading. With some time, they’ll start answering them automatically, and the summaries will flow.

Sample Problem

For a student who is entering the second through fifth grade, they’re still reading relatively simple books. These books don’t have terribly complex plot lines, but they do have a good deal of other things that your student can use in a summary.

A. A main character.
B. A setting (or settings that change throughout the story.)
C. Main Events- These events are the ones that alter a main character’s character, or the direction of the story.
D. A problem that the main character(s) must overcome.
E. A resolution.


Before reading, ask your student to pull out a pencil and some paper. When they begin reading, they will take short “comprehension” breaks.

A- This is the simplest one for your student to identify! Who are they reading about? Usually, this will be on the first page. When they find the name of the main character, whether it’s a cat or a silly boy named Sam, ask them to write the main character’s name down. Ask them to write down a defining characteristic as well. Does Sam smile often? Is he angry the whole time?

B. A fun, easy way to get your student’s brain rolling is to ask your student what I call negative questions- questions that are clearly wrong. If Sam is going to high school, as them if he lives in Iceland. It will get them laughing, and it will prompt them to quickly correct you. When they have the correct setting down, ask them to write that answer down. Ask them to write some details about that setting down as well. Remember, it is alright if they want to go back and reread to find the answer.

C. Ask your student why they are reading about their main character. What is happening to their main character? If they were the main character, how would they be feeling at this point, and why? If you encourage your student to put themselves in the character’s shoes, it creates emotional investment in the story, and more interest. What do students remember? What they like! Continue asking them to write down some details about what is happening to their main character, but also ask them to write down how they’d feel in that situation.

D. What bad or good things have been happening to their character? Ask them to verbally tell you first, and then have them write it down. Once they have written it all down, do a double check- ask them to make sure that what they wrote down matches what they told you the first time. Make sure they are using transitional phrases (and then, next, right after, etc.)

E. Is the story over? How does your student feel? What do they think of the whole story, and why. Ask them to write it all down, and then show them what they have written down. They have the makings of a good summary! Now, they need to start expanding. With all the information fresh in their mind, ask them to provide more details under each step of their summary. As they continue making these outlines, they’ll be able to fill in more details.

About The Author

Get Your Student Back-to-school Ready.
I have been tutoring for the past two years. During my Senior year of high school, it was an easy way to earn money. I tutored my peers in algebra and reading comprehension skills to prepare them for the ASVAD and ACT. When I entered college, tutoring once again became a good way to develop my s...
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