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Thread: Format for writing summaries

  1. #1

    I have a question about using the Summary Writing Worksheet with my children ages 10 & 12. We are gearing up for the Newspaper Project and working on our Animal summaries this week. The Writing Aids notes are great on how to get started and complete the worksheet. My question is about the format for writing the summaries.

    If the completed summary is 3 paragraphs long, how do I guide my students to structure their report? On longer assignments, they write an introductory paragraph, one paragraph for each point and a concluding paragraph. A summary is not as detailed, yet the summary worksheet suggests three main ideas with three important facts supporting each main idea. How do you lay this out with only three paragraphs? Is there a recommended format for summaries similar to the 3 point essay? I know they need to have a strong introductory sentence and state the three key points in the first paragraph. I also know they need a strong concluding statement to wrap it up at the end. How would you organize the supporting facts for each of the three main ideas within the 3 paragraph structure?

    I know this may seem picky, but I am trying to give them a framework to follow and illustrate how it is different from a report or essay. I realize that summaries come in all shapes and sizes and will vary by topic. However, we are trying to follow the guidelines in Writing Aids using the Summary Worksheet and can't quite see what that looks like. The outline on Exodus is helpful, but I would structure that with 5 paragraphs instead of 3. Any suggestions?


  2. #2
    President, Lampstand Press
    Join Date
    Apr 2002
    Hi, Eia

    As you know, summary writing focuses on finding the main idea, and then briefly recounting these ideas. Sticking with our suggested exercise for the moment, the summary worksheet attempts to force students to not record every detail of an encyclopedia article about the animal, but instead to choose three main topics and include ONLY three details about each topic.

    Young students don't need to write a three-paragraph summary; they can write one or two paragraphs from the information they have gathered. As you say above, "summaries come in all shapes and sizes and will vary by topic." In this case, you don't NEED intro/concluding paragraphs (which make a 5-paragraph report or essay, typically). The student can simply summarize three sub-topics about an animal. So, for a zebra, for instance:

    Zebras are members of the Equidae family native to eastern, southern and southwestern Africa. This makes them cousins to horses and donkeys. Like their cousins, they have hooves, short, donkey-like skulls, and compact, short-legged bodies.

    Zebras eat grasses on the plains of Africa, where they live. They are herbivores. Zebras are very adaptable grazers. Though they feed mainly on grasses, they can also eat shrubs, herbs, twigs, leaves and bark. Their divinely designed digestive system allows them to subsist on diets of lower nutritional quality than that necessary for herbivores.

    Surprisingly, zebras are seldom used as beasts of burden. Attempts have been made to train zebras for riding but most of these attempts have failed, due to the zebra's unpredictable nature and tendency to panic under stress. They are popular zoo additions, though, and unfortunately have often been hunted for their skins.
    A summary is not a report because it does not focus on drawing the reader in, or carrying him along. It is more like a memo, but in paragraph format, rather than bulleted. It has the facts; just the facts. One need not worry about transition words, connecting paragraphs skillfully, or introducing/concluding. Nor is the goal to follow a train of thought; rather, it is to shortly convey facts.


    No one can do me a greater kindness in this world than to pray for me.
    --Charles Spurgeon

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