Summarizing can be an extremely difficult skill for students. I find that when students are asked to summarize, many try to tell every event and detail from the story because they do not understand the difference between summarizing and giving a retell. When we ask students to retell, we want them to give a play-by-play of everything that happened in the story. However, a summary is a brief, short description of the most important events of the story. In order to summarize a story, students need to be able to identify story elements: characters, setting, problem, and solution. It’s important to remember that summarizing is a higher-level skill that teachers need to model many times before expecting students to perform it independently. I love to teach my students to summarize using the Somebody Wanted But So Then strategy (also known as SWBST).
Before beginning, you need to know what each part of the strategy represents.
Somebody – Who is the main character?
Wanted – What did this character want?
But – What was the problem?
So – How was the problem solved?
Then – What happened at the end?
Teaching the SWBST strategy works well when you have already taught your students to identify story elements. It also helps to introduce the strategy using some familiar stories:
Cinderella wanted to go to the ball, but her stepmother wouldn’t let her. So, her fairy godmother used magic to grant Cinderella’s wish. Then Cinderella met the prince and they lived happily ever after.
The Big Bad Wolf wanted to catch a pig, but the pigs built their own houses. So, the wolf tried to blow down the houses. Then the pigs caught the wolf and they didn’t have to worry about him anymore.
After sharing these examples, you should point out that some of the details were left out on purpose (Cinderella had to clean, the forest animals helped Cinderella, the fairy godmother turned a pumpkin into a carriage, Cinderella lost her glass slipper on the stairs, etc.). While these are wonderful details for a retell, they can be left out in order to focus on the bigger picture of the story.
When it’s time to model the strategy, it helps to have an anchor chart made up ahead of time like this one:
As you read a story, you can either write the book title or add a picture of the cover as a reference tool. Using sticky notes, you would write each part of the summary and stick it to the chart under the appropriate heading. Once all the sticky notes were in place, you would model how the summary comes together by reading the sticky notes from left to right. For example, in the story Widget, you might say, “Widget wanted to live with Mrs. Diggs, but her cats didn’t like dogs. So Widget pretended to be a cat until Mrs. Wiggs fell down. Then Widget barked and everyone was happy to have a dog around.”
Over the next few days you would repeat these steps, gradually releasing the responsibility over to students. This is how I have explained this process to my students:
I Do, You Watch
I Do, You Help
You Do, I Help
You Do, I Watch
When the chart is complete, you can either create another chart or just replace the book covers and sticky notes with new information. If you plan to use the same chart, you might want to take a photo of the completed chart first and print it out as a reference tool.
To ensure that students are using the strategy correctly, they need time to practice. For independent reading time, you can provide a summarizing bookmark as a tool.
These bookmarks help remind students to think while reading. Once they have finished reading a story, they can use the bookmark to summarize using the SWBST strategy.
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WRITING A SUMMARY
Once students can say their summary verbally, they can begin to write the summary. This will take time and practice before students can complete the task independently.
You can grab these FREE graphic organizers here.
PICTURE BOOKS FOR SUMMARIZING WITH SWBST
Here are four books I recommend using when teaching students to summarize with the SWBST strategy. You can click on any of the covers to learn more.
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Widget by Lyn Rossiter McFarland
When Widget, a little stray dog, stumbles through a flap door into the home of Mrs. Diggs, he sees six cats, six bowls of food, and six warm beds. There’s clearly only one thing to do – Widget pretends he is a cat. Widget meows, purrs, plays with a toy mouse, and uses the litter box! But when Mrs. Diggs takes a fall and doesn’t get up, it’s up to Widget to save the day with a particularly canine solution.
Lacey Walker, Nonstop Talker by Christianne Jones
Lacey Walker loves to talk. She talks all day, and sometimes all night. But when she loses her voice, Lacey learns the importance of listening.
You Get What You Get by Julie Gassman
Melvin throws fit after fit when he doesn’t get what he wants. He must learn how to deal with disappointment. After all, you get what you get and you don’t throw a fit.
The Dog Who Cried Wolf by Keiko Kasza
Moka is a good dog. But when Michelle, his little girl, reads him a book about wolves, being a good dog suddenly seems awfully boring. Wolves get to run around doing whatever they want. No one ever makes a wolf dress up for a tea party. So Moka decides to run away to the wild. But what will happen when the real wolves show up?
You might also enjoy these graphic organizers for fiction and nonfiction texts: