The beauty of working in a small school is that I am very familiar with the curriculum of my fellow English teachers; there are, after all, only three of us. I know, for example, that my current juniors spent a great deal of time learning how to write a proper summary during their sophomore English class, primarily because they needed a lot of practice.
With this in mind, I start our study of summary, for which the standard is consistent across high school grades, with a review. I ask students to explain what makes a good summary.
"Claims." Well, in non-fiction, yes.
"Oh, themes." Yes
"Key quotes." Often.
"Explanation." In any paragraph writing, yes.
Silence. We're missing a few elements.
I eventually cave and offer up the missing elements, identifying information and rhetorical verbs. I get a few head nods, but mostly I see blank faces. It's a good thing we're reviewing.
To give students a reason for our summary review (aside from it's a good skill to have), I first introduce their final novel project. Most students have already looked at the assignment in anticipation, but today we will go over it together.
I highlight the three skills I expect to see in their projects--theme analysis, summary, and inferential analysis. We have already studied theme analysis, and students have feedback to use to help them polish this skill for the project. We will study summary and inferential analysis now that our reading is complete.
I make sure to share words of wisdom from previous classes: don't get caught up in the video aspect! In the past, groups have been so caught up in making a thorough, amusing video that they forgot to include all the standards--no good.
Finally, I remind students that they have already reflected on whether or not they should work as a group or solo; all students who requested to work solo may do so. No groups need to be rearranged to accommodate the solo workers, so we are [nearly] ready to begin. We just need to study our final two skills first.
Since students remembered most elements of a good summary, we are able to work through this lecture quickly. We review the goal, and I provide definitions for the elements students were missing:
Identifying information, including author name, book title, and date of publication, must be included in any summary.
Rhetorical verbs, also known as academic vocabulary, should be used to glue the summary together. Students have a full chart of rhetorical verbs from Do Nows early in the year when I asked them to categorize the verbs by meaning. I ask the class to find that chart now.
With tools at the ready, we complete a group summary of the poem, "We Wear the Mask," already studied during our theme analysis practice. I share my favorite summary start:
"In Paul Laurence Dunbar's poem 'We Wear the Mask' (1896), ...[insert themes]"
We write our summary quickly, now able to see how skills we've already worked on will combine for a good summary:
With one more skill checked off the project assignment, I turn students lose to begin planning their projects. I remind them that they must include all three skills. Today, I recommend that they plan how they can include the summary (and it's accompanying themes).
While students plan, I circulate the address any questions. I hear, "What's this inference target about?" Patience. We could have covered it today, but then we would have been in lecture and whole group practice all hour--not the most engaging way to spend 45 minutes. I ask students to focus only on the summary and themes today--we'll cover the inference target on our next project work day.
When introducing a skill for the first time, I believe it is vital to focus on that one skill alone. This allows for clarity in student processing and practice.
Of course, most English skills are a compilation of smaller skills, and today was a good example. Summary requires theme analysis and the use of academic language. Still, our focus today was on how to create the summary from these previous skills, not how to summarize AND how to find theme AND an introduction to academic language all at once. All of these skills served up brand new at once would be overwhelming!
By studying summary alone--after already studying the skills that go into it--students were able to focus solely on combining theme and academic language to create the summary. Their success rate was much higher as a result.