In your own words

This is the fifth in a series of posts related to the six Strategies covered in my book Practical Reading Strategies. You can buy a copy of the book here. Check out the previous four posts on Making Connections, Visualising, Questioning, and Inferring.

Summarising involves recalling the main events or ideas from a text. The Strategy also extends to more sophisticated processes such as evaluating – passing judgement on the value of a text – and paraphrasing.

In order to summarise, students must be able to first read and comprehend the information in front of them. It’s important to note that summarising isn’t simply copy/pasting content from the text: there are useful skills involved in providing a successful summary, and it is also an important step in the process towards Synthesising – the final Strategy.

Summarising, paraphrasing, and evaluating

Paraphrasing differs from summarising in that involves the extra step of converting the text into your own words. Paraphrasing well can lead to much more fluent and cohesive essays. A good paraphrase is often simpler and more concise than the text it is paraphrasing, allowing students to refine and articulate the key ideas.

Evaluating – such as the kind of writing found in reviews and recommendations – is a different skill again. Being able to evaluate texts allows students to make recommendations and to reflect on the qualities of work with increasing abstraction, such as making judgements of the values in a particular text (Derewianka & Jones, 2016). This then leads towards higher-order skills such as comparison and synthesis.

Example summarising activity: Elevator Pitch

This is one of the Summarising activities from Practical Reading Strategies. The book also contains condensed instructions for students for every activity.

Photo by Fred Kleber on Unsplash

In this activity students need to ‘sell’ the main idea of the text. This blends summarising with persuasive techniques and gets students to think about the main problem in a text, and how the author attempts to address the problem. As such, it’s a perfect activity for analysing opinion pieces, speeches and other texts with a clear argument. The pitch component of the activity is based on a ‘Gaddie pitch’ – a type of elevator pitch commonly used in business proposals.

Instructions for teachers

You’ll need:

☑  Text to be summarised and ‘pitched’

☑  A copy of the sentence starters for the Gaddie pitch

  1. Read the text as a class, in small groups or individually.
  2. Highlight and annotate the main ideas in the text and the evidence used to support those ideas. Students should identify the overall contention and the way the author presents their argument or solution.
  3. Walk students through the process of the Gaddie pitch. In the first sentence, students must outline the problem or issue the text deals with. Students must complete the sentence stem: You know how… <problem>
  4. Explain the second part of the pitch. Students must discuss how the author presents an argument or solution to the problem. Students must complete the sentence stem: Well, <author> suggests/states/ claims…
  5. Explain the final step of the pitch. Students must summarise the evidence/supporting arguments used to back up the author’s contention. Students must complete the sentence stem: In fact… <evidence used to back up the argument>

Example response


You know how… Microplastics in the ocean contribute to animal health issues?

You know how… Microplastics in the ocean contribute to animal health issues?

Well, Aubrey Rosenthorpe suggests… that if we all stop using bath and shower products containing microplastics now, we might get on top of the problem by 2025.

In fact… Research has shown that over 25% of microplastics in the ocean come from bath and shower products. There are many alternatives available, and not all of them are expensive. Experience has shown that consumer demand can change business practice, so if consumers move away from products with microplastics, companies will stop manufacturing them.

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Derewianka, B, & Jones, P (2016). Teaching Language in Context. Melbourne: Oxford University Press Australia & New Zealand

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