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One-Sentence Summaries


In this activity, inspired by Burke’s The English Teacher’s Companion (1998), students will summarize main ideas and vital details in one sentence. There are five different types of one-sentence summaries: description, sequence, compare/contrast, cause/effect, and problem/solution. The purpose of the activity is to help students focus on the most important information. This activity can be used at the beginning of a lesson to activate prior knowledge or as an exit ticket. It can also be used as a check-in mid-lesson to assess student understanding before transitioning to new material. This activity is effective across content areas and grade levels. It works with text- and non-text-based lessons.

Learning Strategies 

  • Connecting
  • Determining Importance
  • Synthesizing
Main Idea vs Details, Summarizing

Lesson Plan Stages 

  • Investigation
  • Synthesis

Content Areas 

  • ELA
  • Math
  • Science
  • Social Studies

Common Core Instructional Shifts 

  • Building Knowledge in the Discipline
  • Text-Based Answers
  • Writing from Sources


Prepare sentence starters for each of the one-sentence summary types.

Activity Steps 
  1. Introduce One-Sentence Summaries
  2. Provide direct instruction of the five types of one-sentence summaries.

    Explain each of the five one-sentence summary types: description, sequence, compare/contrast, cause/effect, and problem/solution. Review sentence starters for each type.

  3. Model a one-sentence summary.

    Read a passage or show a video clip. Based on that content, select one of the five types of summary sentences. Use the sentence starter to write a one-sentence summary. Think aloud for students and stress that the sentence includes the main idea and vital details.

  4. Practice writing one-sentence summaries.

    Students read a passage or watch a video clip, select the type, and write a one-sentence summary.

  5. Obtain peer feedback.

    Students switch papers with a peer. They read and evaluate the summary. · Did the students select the appropriate type of summary? · Did the summary include the main idea and the vital details? Students share feedback with each other. You may want to give students a form with the questions above to fill out as they evaluate their peer’s sentences.

  6. Repeat (optional).

    One-sentence summaries could be written at various points in a lesson during a longer text reading. They could be used as an opening or closing to a lesson.

  7. Reflect.

    Students can reflect individually or as a group, orally or in writing. · Which is harder to write: a traditional summary or a one-sentence summary? Why? · What was one piece of feedback you received from your partner that was helpful? · How does writing a one-sentence summary help focus you on the most important information? · When might you use this strategy again?

Downloadable Resources 
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