Summarizing a text’s main points is a critical reading skill; however, many readers have a difficult time clearly communicating these ideas. According to the Positive Engagement Project, using a framework for responses, such as a fill-in-the-blank sentence, allows a reader to clearly communicate ideas while building language skills. The best sentence frame to use for writing a summary will depend on the reader’s ability level and the type of text.
Compare and Contrast
When summarizing a text that mainly compares and contrasts two things, a basic summary can be written by completing the following sentence frame: “X and Y are both __, but X _ while Y _.” For example, “Apples and oranges are both fruits, but apples are red while oranges are orange.” For a less-skilled reader or a beginning English-speaker, a more basic sentence frame such as “X is like Y because _” may be more appropriate.
To summarize descriptive text, use the sentence frame “A _ is a type of that ,” which can be filled out as “A thoroughbred is a type of horse that can run fast.” For beginning readers, use the simplified version “A _is a _.”
Cause and Effect
When a text primarily discusses a cause and effect relationship, some basic sentence frames for those who struggle with reading or language are “_ happens because ” and “, so _.” These may be filled out as “Lightning happens because there are electrical charges in the air” or “Leaves lose chlorophyll in the fall, so the leaves change color.” The sentence frame “As a result of , ” where the first blank is filled with a cause and the second with an effect, can be used for those with a stronger grasp of language.
If the text is organized as a sequence of steps or events, less-proficient readers may summarize with the sentence frame “First _, then and finally .” For those with more well-developed reading and language skills, try “_ begins with , continues with and concludes with _.” For example, a reader may summarize a baking how-to as “Baking cookies begins with gathering ingredients, continues with mixing the ingredients and concludes with baking.”
Problem and Solution
If the main idea of a text is a problem and its solution, such as in a narrative story, the sentence frame “_ wanted , but , so ___” can provide a brief summary. This breaks down the characters, the conflict and the resolution of a narrative and can be completed by confident readers as “Harriet Tubman wanted to help slaves escape, but the consequences of capture were deadly, so she led them at night through a network of secret hiding spots.” A less-proficient reader may use the same frame with simpler details, such as “Tubman wanted to help slaves, but it was dangerous, so she used the Underground Railroad.” When using sentence frames, readers with a wide range of language-competency can demonstrate their understanding in a clear, concise summary.
Bethany Richardson has been an educator in Texas public schools since 2007. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English rhetoric with a professional writing certificate from Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas.