The Value of Summarizing

“I would have written less, but I didn’t have the time.”  One of my favorite quotes from Mark Twain makes me imagine that the witty author foresaw the world of information overload that we live in today. Given the nonstop stream of news bites and the constant advertising messages we are exposed to, it’s no wonder that only the most succinct stick with us.


Thus, it’s important that we teach our students how to craft a short, snappy summary.  (Begin by defining a summary as an accurate restatement of an author’s main ideas in as few words as possible without adding opinions, background knowledge or personal experience.)  **Click here for a worksheet that will give your students a chance to do just that.  For additional practice, you might also ask them to summarize their independent reading chapter by chapter or asking them to “sum up” what they’ve learned following a lesson in science and history.


To keep your students motivated as they develop their summarizing skills, you might remind them that this is a valuable skill not only in academia, but in the real world.  Such advertising lines as “Quality never goes out of style” for Levi Strauss and “Choosy moms choose Jiff” are really just highly effective, precisely worded summaries of tons of marketing research pinpointing who buys a certain product and why.  If you can spare the classroom time, your students would no doubt enjoy designing an ad for a product of their choice, illustrating it with an appropriate visual and writing one line that summarizes the products’ benefits and appeals to the target audience.

Do you agree with Twain that concise writing is good writing?  As a former advertising copywriter, I certainly do! Without a doubt, LESS IS MORE and that’s why this blog post is so short.


Cynthia Williamson worked as a copywriter in the advertising and publishing industries for many years before switching gears and becoming a special education teacher.  She stays busy today as an  tutor and a freelance writer.


**Here’s an example of an effective summary of the given paragraph:

People from around the world come to Yellowstone National Park to see geysers and wildlife.


Name ____________________________________________________

Read the paragraph below and sum it up in one sentence.

Yellowstone National Park

A staggering 3.6 million tourists from around the world flock to Yellowstone National Park each year eager to explore this Rocky Mountain refuge.  Geysers are just one of the natural wonders you’ll find there.   These are formed when underground hot springs occur in places where the crust of the earth is thin.    When the spring starts to boil, pressure builds until the geyser erupts, spewing steam and hot water into the atmosphere.  Some geysers shoot water straight up in a narrow jet and others explode in a series of powerful bursts.  There are many geysers at Yellowstone, but Old Faithful is the most famous. Ever since its discovery in 1870, this reliable geyser has erupted every 60-90 minutes.   People also travel to Yellowstone to see a great variety of wildlife in its natural habitat.  Herds of elk and bison can be spotted grazing at the side of the road.  Climb a mountain in the northern reaches of the park and there’s a good chance you’ll meet up with a band of bighorn sheep.  Hike into the backcountry to quietly observe a pack of wolves or a grizzly bear.  Look up! There’s a bald eagle soaring overhead.  Without a doubt, Yellowstone National Park showcases the powerful beauty and diversity of the natural world.   Of course, you’ll want to experience it for yourself!

Your Summary: __________________________________________________________________________________

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