Why do I need to teach my adult students how to summarize?
Depending upon the educational background of your students, they may have never learned how to summarize in their first language. Perhaps it’s not emphasized or even necessary in their culture. However, your university-bound students NEED to master summarization strategies and skills to pass the IELTS or the TOEFL as well as to be successful in their future university classes.
Through summarizing, students learn how to determine what the essential ideas of any given text are and to consolidate the supporting important ideas. Summarizing can focus students’ attention on the key words and phrases.
What if they think summarization strategies are unimportant?
My favorite way to demonstrate the necessity of summarizing is to bring in a few actual university textbooks. It’s especially effective if you can get textbooks that would be taught in classes that match your students’ intended majors. Give them a few minutes to leaf through and then tell them that many professors will require them to read several chapters at a time. (This is a good time to mention the importance of skimming as well.)
Ask them if they think they will remember everything after they’ve read it. Ask them if after six chapters or so, they will be ready to take a quiz or test.
Lead them to realize that if they can summarize the chapters, when it’s time to study for a test, they will not be as overwhelmed with information. I like to draw upon what I already know about their favorite ways to spend their free time.
For example: “Mohammed, would you like to re-read the whole book to prepare for your final exam? Or would you rather just read the summaries you made for each chapter? Which would give you more time to spend camping with your friends?”
My students have never summarized before. How do I even begin?
Start with an oral summary so that everyone can follow along with the process:
I like to ask a volunteer to relate what she has done that day up to that point. I make sure she starts at the beginning, and I interrupt constantly to ask questions to direct her to tell EVERYTHING. For example, when she says, “I brushed my teeth”, I would ask:
- Did you get the toothbrush wet before or after you opened the toothpaste?
- Did you close the toothpaste?
- Did you brush up and down or side to side?”
It won’t take long until the student shows frustration at being bogged down by the enormous amount of details. Then ask her to start again, and only tell ten things…what she considers most important. Voila. Your student has just done an oral summary.
Keep them in groups until they’ve got the general idea and can do it quickly.
I’ve also read fables from different cultures and had students fill out a form to answer the following questions:
- Did what?
- What was the result?
I like to have them work in groups and challenge them to see who can come up with the shortest summary that doesn’t leave out anything important. Don’t forget to tell them that when they use their own words, they avoid plagiarizing AND can be more concise.
The thing is…
Sometimes we teachers get so bogged down with covering those four language domains that we forget to use them and teach our students skills and strategies they need now and in the future. Put teaching summarization strategies on your schedule. They might not thank you now, but you know they will later!
Need a bit more? How about: Summarizing Skills: a Logical Order Activity