The Easy Way to Write a Short Summary
HubNuggets Nominee - April 13 - 18
This hub has been nominated for a HubNuggets Award for the week of April 13 - 18.
The 5 W's
Students of all ages, and even Hubbers, are often asked to write summaries. For some teachers this seems to be the hardest writing task to teach. The text books say about summary writing, "Include what's important." This is a circular answer if ever I saw one. Elementary students, especially, don't know what's important. They often have trouble distinguishing the main ideas from the details and the examples.
So -- this is what's important: who, what, when, where, why (and sometimes how).
The who refers to the people who are involved and is usually the subject of the sentence. For example, if you read an article about Albert Einstein and the theory of relativity. Einstein is the who. If you are summarizing a piece of fiction, you must distinguished between the main characters and the minor characters, the protagonist and the antagonist. Who is most of the story about? Who appears on almost all the pages?
The what is normally the direct object in a sentence and is the subject of the article or essay being summarized. In fiction, the what can mean "what happens." When in doubt, look at the title of the selection; it will frequently give you a clue as to the what.
When can be as specific as 2:05am on Saturday, the 25th of February, 2012 or as general as "Once upon a time,..." The when is almost always found in the first paragraph of an article or story. Sometimes the author will intentionally keep the when hazy: " On a cold winter's evening..." This is especially true in fiction when the author is encouraging imaginative access to the story.
The where is vitally important in some stories and in newspaper articles, often of little or no consequence in some writing, such as writing up a scientific experiment in a classroom. Like the when, the where can be as specific as "In the living room of a small house at No. 15 St. Charles Street, in New Orleans, Louisiana, in the USA,..." or as vague as "A place where dreams come true..."
(A note: For some reason I have never discovered, many elementary children confuse when and where. Or, at least, the words don't trigger the appropriate information in their heads. This exercise will be very helpful to them.)
The hardest of the W's for most children to answer. This is often equated in discussing fiction with the theme or the underlying meaning. I had a high school student once who thought I must have the answer to the why in the teacher's edition of the literature book, because he could never quite figure it out. So, one day before I had a chance to ask him "why?", he asked me, "What is the deep, dark, underlying meaning of this work?" As there can be many why's to a complex piece of writing. this makes discussing literature not only interesting, but also important in building a child's imagination and critical thinking skills.
The Super Sentence
One of the exercises I use to help students look for and use these 5 w's in their writing I call the Super Sentence. I will give them a topic, such as Christmas holidays and ask them to write a Super Sentence about it: they must include who, what, when, where and why in one sentence. Most of them will look dazed at first, and then you will see a few heads go down and pencils start moving across the page. The results will be something like this: "We are going to my grandmother's house and eat turkey and we are going on December 25 and that's Christmas day."
With some modeling and very little practice almost all of them can produce sentences like the following in one or two practice sessions: On December 25th, my family and I are going to my grandmother's house for a turkey dinner because it is Christmas Day.
The when is best placed at the beginning in a prepositional phrase; the who should be a noun, not a pronoun at the first mention; the where comes after the verb also in a prepositional phrase, the what can be either prepositional or it can be the direct object; and the why is easiest put in a subordinate clause starting with "because."
The next time you are in need of writing a quick summary or your child has homework to do that requires summarizing, try the 5 w's and the super sentence and see how it works for you.