Tom Nicholson is emeritus professor of literacy education, Massey University, in New Zealand. He is co-author of Writing for Impact: Teaching students how to write with a plan and spell well. In 2019, he edited a freely available LDA Bulletin special issue on writing and writing difficulties.
The ability to write a summary is an important skill for academic success. Some writers argue that the ability to write a summary is one of the top nine most effective strategies in education. Although some students figure out on their own how to do this, many do not. Instead, the advice sometimes given to teachers is to give poorer writers easier topics to read and write about. Instead of writing a summary of a text about the water cycle, they write a summary of a text about someone caught in the rain. This is interesting and engaging but it does not teach them new skills. Other strategies, such as giving students prompts to do free form writing, are valuable but the ability to write a coherent and effective summary of a narrative or expository text is also important for success in school. It is possible to improve the quality of the summary writing of students, however many students need explicit teaching, modelling and practice in how to do this. This talk describes research and practice on how to teach summary writing using different kinds of narrative and expository texts. Students read a text with the teacher, identify the text structure the writer has followed, and diagram the structure. They then use this systematic outline to write a summary. It is a way of bringing reading and writing together so that it strengthens student skills in both areas.