Search form

The Long and Short of It:
Summarizing Important Details



  • Language Arts (Study Skills)
    Note: This activity can be used with a selection from literature or nonfiction reading materials related to science, history, and many other subjects.


  • 3-5
  • 6-8
  • 9-12
  • Advanced

Brief Description

A brief Amelia Earhart biography is used to teach the skill of summarizing.


Students will

  • listen to or read a brief biography of Amelia Earhart or a selection of the teacher's choice.
  • make notes about key points as they listen or read.
  • write a brief (one paragraph) summary of the selection.


summary, summarize, note taking, Earhart, detail, notes, listening, study skills, research

Materials Needed

Lesson Plan

About the Lesson
This is the first of three lessons that employ a brief biography of Amelia Earhart as the starting point for the note-taking exercises. The Earhart biography is a suggested starting point for this lesson. You might substitute any piece of literature for the selection provided; or you might provide additional note-taking practice by repeating this lesson with a variety of content-rich, subject-related reading material.

  • In this lesson, The Long and Short of It: Summarizing Important Details, students practice summarizing a brief reading/listening selection. When writing reports, students use their summarizing (and paraphrasing) skills to avoid plagiarizing (copying verbatim) their resource texts.
  • In the second lesson, Incredible Shrinking Notes, students take notes as they listen to a reading passage. They use a fun 3-step process to "boil down" or focus their note taking on the most important elements, main ideas, and themes of the reading.
  • In the third lesson, Note Taking By Crayon, students read for a purpose; their reading and note taking focuses on information that will help them respond to a very specific question about a reading selection.

The Lesson
In this lesson, students practice summarizing a reading selection. To start, ask students What is summarizing? Why is being able to summarize an important skill to have? When might skill at summarizing come in especially handy? Lead students to talk about how summarizing means picking out essential details and important ideas or themes in an article, a piece of literature, or a speech, and then writing those ideas in their own words. Students might mention that summarizing is a helpful skill to have when writing a report; that it is important when writing reports to state information and ideas in your own words, instead of copying chunks of someone else's text (plagiarizing, cheating).

At the start of the lesson, tell students: I am going to read to you a brief biography of Amelia Earhart, the first woman to fly across the Atlantic Ocean [or substitute a brief description of the text you will read aloud]. As I read, your job is to listen very carefully and to jot down a few words or brief notes that will help you recall the important points of the story. You will need those notes because, when I am finished reading, I am going to ask you to write a paragraph that summarizes what you think were the most important events or themes in Amelia Earhart's life.

You might use the Earhart biography as an introduction to summarizing. Read the piece all the way through one time; then read the piece again while discussing the important points that students might have written down while listening. Then write the summary paragraph as a whole-class activity. When you are finished, you might provide a second piece of content material for students to paraphrase on their own.

After students write their summary paragraphs, invite several students to share their paragraphs. (As students were writing and you were circulating; you might have noted -- and want to share -- several writing samples from students you saw do a particularly good job.)

This is an activity you might repeat a handful of times over the course of a month; students' summarizing skills should improve with each successive lesson.

Alternative Idea
Provide each student with a copy of the Earhart biography or an alternative reading passage. Give students a specific amount of time to read the assigned passage. When they are finished reading, have them use the remaining time to consider the facts they might include in a summary of the passage. Then have students turn over the paper and write a paragraph summarizing the most important elements of the reading selection. While writing, do not allow students to turn over their papers to return to the reading. After they complete their writing, allow students to turn their papers over and use the passage to correct any misinformation or to revise and edit their summaries.


Have students listen to or read another assigned passage of text, and write a brief (one paragraph, no more than five sentences) summary of that text.

Lesson Plan Source

Education World

Submitted By

Gary Hopkins


Return to the Note Taking lesson plan page.

Find more ideas for teaching study skills in an Education World article Teaching Study Skills: Ideas That Work!.