The goal of summarizing a larger selection of text (e.g., an article, story, or chapter) is to distill the gist, key ideas, or main points. A summary, according to Webster’s, is the “general idea in brief form.” It is reducing the larger work into its primary notions.
The article, ‘Strategies for Reading Comprehension Summarizing’, warns what many teachers already know from experience—that teaching students to be effective “summarizers” is “no small undertaking.” It is hard for all students, and especially those who struggle, to identify the main ideas and key ideas of a text, break down larger concepts into meaningful chunks of information, integrate key words and phrases into summaries, and write only enough to convey what is important. In addition to the strategies suggested in this article, the PowerUp WHAT WORKS Summarizing Instructional Strategy Guide offers teachers ways to differentiate instruction.
A category of tools called word clouds can support the teaching and learning of summarizing skills. A word cloud is a visually interesting arrangement of words taken from a particular digital text. The words appear in different sizes depending on how important or frequently they appeared in the text.
The article, ‘Nine Excellent (Yet Free) Online Word Cloud Generators’, lists and describes varied word cloud generators. Check out the eight, free tools listed below, which omitted Tagul (https://wordart.com/) since it was designated for web masters.
- Wordle http://www.wordle.net/
- Tag Crowd https://tagcrowd.com/
- Image Chef http://www.imagechef.com/ic/word_mosaic/
- ABCya! http://www.abcya.com/word_clouds.htm
- Word Cloud http://www.tocloud.com/
- Tagxedo http://www.tagxedo.com/
- TagCrowd http://www.tocloud.com/
In what ways could these tools be helpful? They provide an excellent way for students to boldly and visually “see” which ideas appear frequently, as well as the relationship between key ideas. Since the tools all distill important key words and ideas, your students could have a starting point for drafting summaries. With a word cloud in hand, they could begin to draw ideas together into an initial summary. Have you used word clouds to scaffold instruction? How would you use such tools to teach summarizing and support your students?