3. Learning how to summarise

Learning to find and summarise the main ideas in the chapters of textbooks and other study materials becomes increasingly important as pupils move up through the school. These skills take practice to acquire.

The Key Activity and Resource 5: Text on the baobab give examples of ways to help pupils learn how to summarise information texts. You will need to do such activities many times. For older pupils, you could ask colleagues to show you what the pupils you teach are required to read in other subjects such as social studies or science. You could then use passages from social studies or science textbooks for summary work in the language classroom by following the steps in the Key Activity.

Case Study 3: Summarising key points from textbook chapters

The pupils in Mr Etsey’s class were anxious about the forthcoming examinations. They told him they didn’t really understand what their teachers meant when they told the pupils to ‘revise’ the chapters in their textbooks. Mr Etsey decided to use an information text from their English textbook to give his class some ideas about how to find and write down the main points in a text.

He asked his pupils to tell him the purpose of the table of contents, chapter headings and sub-headings in their textbooks. It was clear from their silence that many pupils had not thought about this. A few were able to say that these give readers clues about the main topics in the book. Mr Etsey told the pupils that in order to revise a chapter, they should write the sub-headings on paper, leaving several lines between each one. Then they should read what was written in the textbook under one sub-heading, close their books and try to write down the key points of what they had just read.

Next, they should check their written notes against the book and make changes to their notes by adding anything important they had left out or crossing out anything they had written incorrectly. Mr Etsey said that some pupils prefer to make notes in the form of a mind map in which there are connections between important points. (See Resource 5and Key Resource: Using mind maps and brainstorming to explore ideas. [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] .) He showed them how to do this.

Finally, he reminded them to ask their teachers to explain anything they had not understood. Mr Etsey also told them how he made notes of what he found out about his pupils and their learning to help him plan more lessons.

Key Activity: Developing summarising skills

Before the lesson, copy the text from Resource 5 on the baobab tree or write it on your chalkboard. Try out the activities yourself first.

  • Showing pupils some newspaper and magazine pages, ask why the articles have headlines and what they tell the reader. Ask them to suggest why their textbooks have headings and sub-headings.
  • Ask pupils to read the information text about the baobab tree and to work in pairs to decide which paragraphs are on the same topic.
  • Ask them to write a heading that summarises the paragraph(s) on each topic.
  • Ask some pupils to read out their headings and write these on the chalkboard.
  • Agree which are the best headings for each set of paragraphs on the same topic.
  • Leave the ‘best’ headings on the board with some space under each one. Ask pupils to suggest key points from the paragraphs and record these.
  • Show pupils how to link headings and key points in a mind map to help them remember about baobab trees.

2. Reading charts and diagrams

Resources 1: Text on litter