5-3-1 Summary Writing

Writing a summary is an essential part of education. A summary is used in English, science, history, art… in pretty much any class and level you can think of! 

However, we can all agree that teaching students to write a summary is not the easiest task. It’s a skill that must be explicitly taught & practice again and again. 

This strategy is not to introduce summary writing, but it’s a way to practice summary writing. The goal of the activity is to get students to write summaries of different length, and slowly learn how to write a short, concise summary sentence with the main idea of the text. A free download of a template is here or on the resources page.

After reading a text, students choose 3-5 key words from the text. I also have a full lesson introducing key words with task cards available here.

The first time I teach 5-3-1, I like to do it as an entire class. So next, students work to write a five sentence summary of the text using all of the key words. I write it on the whiteboard or poster paper.

Then, encourage students to edit and rewrite the five sentences into three sentences. They can take out some unnecessary details and work on combining sentences or ideas. All key words still need to be included!

Finally, the challenge! Try to get all key words into ONE sentence that still explains the most important information from the text.

I like this exercise because it helps students focus in on the most important details. It also shows them if they’ve chosen some keywords that are maybe not so essential once they try to write one sentence. For grammar, it also helps students to combine sentences, ideas, and to be careful of run-on sentences!

As a fun alternative to the whole-class activity, I’ll have pairs write a five-sentence summary, then pairs have to trade! They must change their peer’s summary to three sentences. Then, they trade with another pair and do it again. It is an added challenge but helps students see examples of other writing and start to identify good writing.

This template for using the 5-3-1 strategy is on my TpT here or on the resource page.

On a personal note, I’ve greatly enjoyed the time I have to create resources. I use a lot of these strategies on a regular basis, but hope they can be helpful to you too! My project as an English Language Fellow in Uganda is primarily focused on creating instructional materials for English language education, and it’s been so great to dedicate time to that. I hope you enjoy!

Enjoying a rainy day in Uganda while creating this resource!

Happy teaching!

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