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Meaty Words


  • Literature
  • Language Arts


  • 3-5
  • 6-8

Brief Description

Students learn how to choose "meaty words" to summarize a story. Also a good activity for teaching students a note-taking strategy to use as prepare to write a book report.


  • use key words to summarize main ideas, events in a story.
  • use those "meaty word" notes to help them write a summary.


summarize, summary, main idea, notes, note-taking, book report, key words

Materials Needed

  • newspapers (newspaper headlines illustrate the use of "meaty words" to describe a story)
  • overhead projector (optional)
  • a read-aloud book, chapter book, or content-area textbook

The Lesson

This is a whole-class lesson that models for students how they can use "meaty words" to summarize what they read. This lesson involves multiple skills, including summarizing and main idea. It can also serve as an introductory lesson to the skill of note-taking.

Teach this lesson in steps. Use a read-aloud book, a chapter book, or a content-area textbook. The lesson is presented in a broad overview so that it can be adapted to any book you are reading/test you might use. This activity could also be done in small literature groups.

Begin the lesson by showing students some headlines from newspapers. Ask students what the headlines are meant to do? (attract attention of the reader, summarize the main idea or topic of the story) Are headlines written in complete sentences? (no, they are shorter; have no punctuation) What words are used in a headline? (words that are important to the story, "meaty words") Which words are not used in headlines? (you don't see many smaller -- or unimportant -- words in headlines)

Emphasize to students that when a newspaper editor writes a headline, he/she only puts the important, or "meaty," words in it.

Next, prepare an overhead transparency or write on a board or chart the following information:


______ ______ ______ ______ ______

______ ______ ______ ______ ______

______ ______ ______ ______ ______

______ ______ ______ ______ ______

Assign students a passage of silent reading. The passage might be a news story (without a headline), a chapter from a book, a few paragraphs from a social studies textbook... The entire class should read the same text. After students have read, have them use meaty words to write a headline (or summary of the most important ideas or events) they encountered in the passage. Using the format above, they should try to use five meaty words as they write that "headline." Remind them to

  • think of only the most important things that happened in the text as they write their headlines.
  • leave out words such as if, and, then
  • meaty-word headlines should read like news headlines from a newspaper.

When students have finished writing their headlines, set aside time for them to share them with their classmates. Write a handful of their headlines on the board or chart. Then let students share their thoughts about which one(s) made good use of meaty words.

Repeat the above activity with another passage of reading. Did the modeling of good headlines in the previous step help all students do a better job of choosing the meatiest words for their headlines this time?

Help students see the application for meaty words:

Help them to understand that they can use "meaty words" to record main ideas as they read storybooks, chapter books, social studies or science textbooks -- any books. Meaty words can help them remember some of the main events and ideas in a book.

When students are assigned a book report, a book report does not tell about all the events in the book. It does not give a lot of detail. It tells some of the highlights or important events or information. As students read a book for a book report, or as they read some pages or a chapter in their social studies textbook, writing meaty-word headlines can help them remember the most important information.

Repeat the activity again with another passage of text or another chapter from a storybook. Write some of the students' headlines of the board or a chart. Then have them use the "meaty headlines" they wrote as a "cue" to help them write a few sentences that summarize the section of text that they read. Doing that will help them see how meaty word headlines (or simple notes) can help them retell or summarize the section of text they read and how meaty word headlines can be used to help them write book report summaries too.

You might follow up with a homework assignment in which students write a meaty headline for another section of text.

Close the activity by emphasizing again that writing meaty-word headlines can be a valuable activity for students to do after they have read any piece of text. It forces them go back and think again about the most important ideas in their reading. Talk again about how meaty-word headlines can help them when their assignment is to write a book report. You might assign a "meaty-word book report" for their next book report; students' book reports will share their meaty-word headlines for each chapter in the book.


Student success will be measured by how well they complete the activity on their own.

Submitted By

Angie Morris, Bellflower (Missouri) Elementary School

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