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Short and Snappy Summarizing Strategies

“Make sure you put the information in your own words!” Countless students have heard teachers use these words to remind them to summarize. The ability to summarize important information is critical. Thus, summarizing is a research-based strategy that can increase student achievement (Dean, Hubbell, Pitler, & Stone, 2012), and teaching students explicit strategies for summarizing written material is one of the 11 elements of effective writing instruction for students in 4th through 12th grade (Graham & Perin, 2007). The Rule-Based Summarizing Strategy and the Three-Column Journal described in this article will help students summarize effectively.

The Rule-Based Summarizing Strategy

            This strategy consists of clear steps that students can follow to guide them through the summarizing process. The steps are as follows:

  1. Take out material that is not important to understanding.
  2. Take out words that repeat information.
  3. Replace a list of things with one word that describes them (e.g., replace oak, elm, and maple with trees).
  4. Find a topic sentence or create one. (Dean, Hubbell, Pitler, & Stone, 2012, p. 80)

The Three-Column Journal

Another summarizing strategy is the Three-Column Journal (Rozelle & Scearce, 2009). Using this strategy, students record information in three sections.

  • The Notes, Facts, & Quotes section is used to record information and vocabulary.
  • The Reflections, Reactions, Observations column captures student reactions and thoughts about what they’ve learned.  The authors suggest that students use and underline content vocabulary and key ideas and include “a minimum of three to five lines for each reflection or reaction” (p. 152).
  • The Graphic Representation column includes a picture, graph, or image that relates to the information.

Table 1 shows how the Three-Column Journal can be organized. Table 2 provides an example of a completed Three-Column Journal entry. Students may create their own journal pages, or teachers can provide a template.

Table 1

Format for Three-Column Journal Entry

 Notes, Facts, & Quotes

Reflections, Reactions, & Observations

Graphic Representation

Table 2

Three-Column Journal Entry Example

Notes, Facts, & Quotes

Reflections, Reactions, &

Graphic Representation

Summarizing means capturing important facts and information in my own words.There are rules for summarizing.A summary should be short and easy to understand.

How do I know what is important and what is not? Maybe crossing out useless information will help me focus on important information. This should help me be more concise.  garbagecan

Additional Resources

Teaching students to summarize information is one way to help them become proficient writers.  Click here for descriptions of 19 other easy classroom summarizing strategies, including Word Splash, Headline Summaries, and $2 Summaries. For more in-depth information on the 11 elements of effective writing and a sample of a prewriting strategy, read The Wonderful World of Writing: Strategies for Effective Writing Instruction from the May/June 2012 issue of Link Lines (article no longer available).   The Virginia Department of Education’s extensive online writing resources. Lastly, to learn how one Virginia teacher used a variety of research-based strategies to help the majority of her fifth-grade students with disabilities pass the spring writing assessment, read One Teacher’s Story: Results-Oriented Writing Instruction for Struggling Students.


Dean, C. B., Hubbell, E. R., Pitler, H., & Stone, B. (2012). Classroom instruction that works: Research-based strategies for increasing student achievement (2nd ed.). Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Graham, S., & Perin, D. (2007). Writing next: Effective strategies to improve writing of adolescents in middle and high schools – A report to Carnegie Corporation of New York. Washington, DC: Alliance for Excellent Education.

Rozelle, J., & Scearce, C. (2009). Power tools for adolescent literacy: Strategies for learning.  Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.

Santangelo, T., Harris, K. R., & Graham, S. (2008). Using self-regulated strategy development to support students who have “trubol giting thangs into werds.” Remedial and Special Education, 29(2), 78-89. doi:10.1177/0741932507311636