Fourth-graders learn how to write book summaries so they can effectively condense larger amounts of information into one or two short paragraphs. This exercise teaches them to locate the main parts of the story, such as the setting, plot and primary characters. As a teacher, parent or tutor, you can help your students learn how to write book summaries by breaking the text into smaller sections and helping them focus on the most important details.
Divide your class into pairs and ask each group to discuss the chapter -- or group of chapters -- they've just read. As a parent, you can discuss the selection with your child. Instruct fourth-graders to focus on the setting, influential characters and major events. Allow two to three minutes for discussion; then ask your students to write one sentence -- a main idea sentence -- that clearly explains the importance of that chapter, suggests ScholarWorks at Western Michigan University. Provide an example, such as a one-sentence summary for chapters one through three in "Holes" by Louis Sachar -- "Stanley Yelnats must dig 5-foot holes in the lizard-populated Texas desert at a juvenile delinquency camp, known as Camp Green Lake, for a crime he didn't commit."
Instruct your students to reread their collection of main-idea sentences after they've finished reading the entire book. Ask them to make a T-chart with the categories "setting," "main characters," "conflict," "major events" and "resolution" in one column and a brief description, using their main-idea sentences, in the other, suggests Studyzone, a website sponsored by the Oswego City School District in New York. For example, if your students are writing a summary for "James and the Giant Peach" by Roald Dahl, the "conflict" description might read, "James feels sad and lonely when he's forced to live with his two mean aunts after his parents are eaten by a rhinoceros."
Putting It Together With Transitional Words
Have students use their T-charts to write their summaries. Encourage them to paraphrase, rather than using exact quotes from the text, suggests the Berryessa Union School District in San Jose, California. Explain the importance of transitional words and phrases, such as "because," "also," "another," "for example," "first" and "next." Show them how they can use the words to create smooth, well-structured summaries, recommends the Common Core State Standards Initiative for fourth-graders.
Explain to students that a book summary only covers information that's specifically addressed in the book. A book summary isn't an opinion paper or a book report, so they shouldn't include personal views, experiences or recommendations in their papers. They can discuss important themes or lessons, as long as the lessons are obvious from the story. For example, if your students are writing a summary for "Jumanji" by Chris Van Allsburg, they might discuss the central theme -- facing your fears -- and provide a brief description of how the characters learn to be courageous. However, they shouldn't discuss ways they've conquered their own fears.
- Oswego City School District -- Studyzone: Lesson Summary
- Western Michigan University -- ScholarWorks: Writing for Comprehension
- Common Core State Standards Initiative: English Language Arts Standards -- Writing -- Grade 4
- Berryessa Union School District: Summary Writing Rubric 4th-5th Grade
- Lakeshore: Summarizing a Story -- 3rd-5th Grade
- Great Schools: Favorite Books for Fourth-Graders
As curriculum developer and educator, Kristine Tucker has enjoyed the plethora of English assignments she's read (and graded!) over the years. Her experiences as vice-president of an energy consulting firm have given her the opportunity to explore business writing and HR. Tucker has a BA and holds Ohio teaching credentials.