Mini Summaries


This activity supports students in comprehending lectures or presentations by asking them to write a summary of a section of the presentation every three to five minutes.  Writing these regular mini-summaries helps students to sustain attention, to distinguish main ideas from details, to paraphrase succinctly and accurately, and to create a record of what they have heard.

Learning Strategies 

  • Determining Importance
  • Metacognition
Close Reading, Metacognition, Problem Solution

Lesson Plan Stages 

  • Investigation
  • Launching Into New Content
  • Synthesis

Content Areas 

  • Math

Learning Strands 

  • Numeracy
  • Reading

Common Core Instructional Shifts 

  • Metacognition


  • Identify the topic you want students to learn about, and prepare a lecture or presentation on the topic.  You can also use this activity for a film or a read-aloud.  Since the summary writing process takes time, the presentation itself should probably take no more than 20 minutes.
  • Identify the frequency with which you want to stop and ask students to summarize.  Every three to five minutes is typical, but you may want shorter time spans for particularly challenging or dense material.
Activity Steps 
  1. Teacher reviews summarizing, and presents some models of good summaries.
    Generally, a good summary should include all the main ideas and none of the minor details, and should be a paraphrase without unnecessary words.
    Let students know that they may not write “perfect” summaries during this activity, but that by trying to write the best summaries they can they will understand the material better and better, and will steadily improve in their ability to summarize effectively.
  2. Teacher introduces general topic of presentation (or film, lecture, read-aloud), and students prepare for summary writing. Teacher reminds students to listen for main ideas.
    As you model this, you again want to think aloud about how you can tell the level of difficulty of a text.
    It will be obvious to many students, but you may want to make explicit the analogy with traffic lights: green means go ahead full speed; yellow means be careful and slow down a little; red means slow down a lot, possibly stop and reread or apply reading strategies to aid comprehension.
    You can consider providing students with a template divided into sections into which they can write each summary.
    During this initial stage you can consider guiding students to jot down notes as they listen.
  3. Teacher delivers or shows first portion of lecture, presentation, film, or read-aloud. Students may take notes on main ideas that they notice.

    This first section should take approximately three to five minutes.

  4. Teacher pauses and students write a summary of the first portion of the presentation.

    Circulate as students are working, gauging their comprehension and recall, and helping guide them towards more effective summaries.

  5. Teacher presents next section of the presentation for another three to five minutes, and then students write another summary. This process continues iteratively until the end of the presentation.

    Generally, students struggle with their initial summaries, but improve rapidly.  This iterative process can develop both their auditory comprehension and their summarizing ability.

  6. Students get into pairs, and compare their summaries. They note commonalities and differences, and discuss each student’s understanding of the main idea(s).
    As students are talking, you can sit with each group for several minutes and listen to their conversation.  Ask them about their process and what they are noticing, and help guide them towards recognition of the main ideas.
    At this point you can consider providing a transcript or written notes of the presentation so that students can compare their summaries against a full written text.
  7. Alone or in groups, in conversation or in writing, students reflect on their learning process.
    Students respond to questions including:
    How did your summaries and your process of writing summaries change over the course of this activity? 
    What did you learn to make the process easier or more effective?
    How does summarizing affect your ability to understand something you hear?
    In what other context might you use this strategy?
Downloadable Resources 
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