Home > Our Design Lab > Learning Activities > Generative Summarizing

Generative Summarizing


This small-group activity helps students to encode and extend content presented in direct teaching or a text. Students are guided to work cooperatively to use their own words, experiences, and connections to generate novel summaries of presented content

Learning Strategies 

  • Determining Importance
  • Synthesizing

Lesson Plan Stages 

  • Investigation
  • Synthesis

Common Core Instructional Shifts 

  • Balancing Informative and Literary Texts
  • Building Knowledge in the Discipline
  • Text-Based Answers


  • Prepare the target presentation or text.
  • Consider preparing a template or outline to structure student notes.
  • If this is the first time completing this activity, prepare to model and teach the steps of the generative summary process. Consider preparing a handout or display that reminds students of the steps of the process.
Activity Steps 
  1. Teacher delivers the presentation or students read the text. Every student takes individual notes on content.

    Students will need to rely on their notes to complete the activity, so they would benefit from prior instruction and practice in note-taking skills. You may want to consider providing them with a template to scaffold their note- taking.

  2. Individually, students review their notes and identify the topic of the presentation or text. Students write a sentence that reflects just that topic.

    If this is the first time completing the activity, students will require modeling, explicit instruction, and guidance to complete each step. Students may need some instruction on how to identify a topic in a text. Throughout the summarizing process, circulate and check in with students, conferring with them about their thoughts and ideas and helping to extend them. Remind students that all sentences must be in their own words.

  3. Students each identify a subtopic from the text or presentation, and ideas and details related to that subtopic. They each compose a sentence in their own words linking together this subtopic and the related idea(s).

    Remember that some students may require extra modeling and scaffolding to complete this process.

  4. Students compose subsequent sentences using the same pattern: they identify a subtopic or main idea, plus the ideas associated with it, and then they write a sentence in their own words linking together these ideas and the subtopic.

    During this time you can circulate and discuss the summaries with the students. Probe their thinking and understanding and help to extend their ideas.

  5. Students get into small groups. Each student reads aloud his/her summary to his/her group.
  6. Within each group, students decide collectively what to add, modify, or omit from each summary.

    You may want to model this step prior to student work time. You can confer with each group during this time to help them consider the most important elements of the summaries. Help them to consider what information is essential to all the summaries, and what information might vary from summary to summary.

  7. Within each group, students use and modify the best parts of the individual summaries to construct a group summary.

    You can model this process initially using several student volunteers and their individual summaries.

  8. Students reflect on their learning process either in conversation or in writing.

    Students respond to questions such as: · How does this type of summarizing differ from other types of summarizing I have used? How does this difference affect my learning? · How did hearing and revising my peers’ summaries affect my learning? · How is it different to summarize in groups and individually? When and how is each useful? · In what other context might I use this strategy?

Downloadable Resources 
Login to See More