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Peer Summarizing

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Time Estimate

45 minutes


To have students gain experience creating summaries of written or multimedia texts.



Computer Lab Option Materials

Word processing software

Digital projector

  1. Explain the basics of creating a summary and go over the main attributes that good summaries address. This short “lecture” can be done on the board, using information that students already possess. Some things to cover might be: how much information to condense, how to start a summary / the type of set-up phrases used to indicate larger pieces of information, and how to make claims about “how” a writer claims something rather than “what” he/she claims.

  2. Ask students to anonymously “freewrite” on a topic, minimum 200 words. Ideally, choose a topic that is connected to a writing project that your students are currently working on.

  3. After students have written their pieces, have them switch seats randomly (such as playing musical chairs) and sit down at another student’s desk and create a summary of the material in the freewrite. Students should aim for less than 80 words.

  4. When students return to their original work, they can read the summaries and decide on whether the summarizer did a good job in creating a summary of the original freewrite.

Follow-up Option

Time Estimate

25 minutes

  1. Continuing from the previous summarizing activity, students switch seats again, this time summarizing the summary in less than 50 words.

  2. Students will then read their second-level summaries of the original and the class will try to determine who wrote the original piece for each summary.

Multimedia Option

Time Estimate

20 minutes

  1. Have students watch and take notes on a short video and then work to create a summary of that video. This clip from This American Life is a great example, but there are many possibilities. Ideally, you should choose your own video for students to summarize. Students should keep their summaries to less than 150 words.

  2. Students then anonymously hand in (to create a large pile of papers) and then select a summary at random to analyze against the original source.

Computer Lab Option

A simple computer lab option could be for students to compose in a word processing program, such as Microsoft Word, instead of on paper. Students can then move around from computer to computer to write summaries. Instead of reading papers aloud, students could post their second-level summaries to an online course resource (e.g., Blackboard) and the instructor could pull them up on a projector (if available).