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Writing Scaffolds: Summarizing

Contrary to the commonly held idea that Charlotte Mason style narrations are not summary style narrations, they can be and in this curriculum they do exist. In fact, they are a central part of the overall writing focus here. Many of the less significant looking narration suggestions are actually prompts which act as scaffolds in teaching the writing process, prompts with which summarizing is just one section of that process.

Unlike some classically and neo-classically inspired writing curricula, this curriculum attempts to follow a child's natural development, allowing children to first gain fluency in reading, writing, classifying, categorizing and expression before attempting to expect the child to handle such skills as differentiating between essential and non-essential information. But this is not to suggest that the skills needed for the latter are not taught, only to underscore that the emphasis is different. Differentiating between details is addressed, but in a manner which doesn't require the student to juggle multiple tasks at once. Other writing curricula may jump into the skills needed for summarizing long before a student is ready, leading to student and teacher frustration and making the writing process feel arduous and tedious. This can really dampen a student's attitude towards writing. Gently moving the child from fluency in expression to subtle prompts which teach the ideas behind finding essential points in a reading passage and then finally to confidently summarizing is the logical flow of this skill.

Logical Flow of Skills for Summarizing

  • Narrations such as retellings help students practice turning knowledge, story and experience into words. Art study and nature study begins to build attention, including attention to details.

  • Narration prompts introduce the ideas behind sorting through information and meanwhile skills for sorting, classifying and categorizing are being reinforced through keeping science notebooks and nature sketchbooks.

  • Narration suggestions now include skill practice in key word sentences, summary sentences, tables and charts, building those skills needed for good summarizing. Specific exercises can provide additional help for those who need more explicit direction at this level. Narrations expect students to be able to sort out essential points of a passage, writing summary paragraphs and narrations, turning summary sentences into a summary paragraph(s) and writing précis.

  • Lastly, students will apply their skills towards more advanced papers. Citing sources properly, keeping a formal lab notebook and other skills are a part of this level.

There are multiple ways in which the concepts behind summarizing can be explored or carefully built over time. Through various narration prompts, these summarizing subparts are a gentle yet focused way for children to add this section of the writing process to their repertoire of tools. From this scaffold, upon which these skills can be built and can be connected to other writing skills, they will then move into summarizing in various forms.

The example prompts listed below can be found throughout this curriculum. It would be easy to dismiss these as simple and their greater purpose missed. Note that each one finds some way to direct the child's attention to essential points of a passage, person, event or object or supports other aspects of summarizing.

Skill Builder Prompts for Summarizing

Choosing a new title (titles generally reflect the main idea of a chapter, book or story)

Give a picture a caption

Labeling main events in a timeline or plot outline

Describing one person, event or character only

Explaining title (why did the author choose this title)

Recapitulation (review or connecting questions)

Given headings and then the student gives an oral narration based on them

Research narration-written-3-4 interesting facts

News article drawing on who, what, where, when, why, how

Lists-key points, main characteristics, etc.

Writing postcards...not enough room for details so main points only

Diary entries/letters...again focus on key points

Artist study narrations.....the narration completed after study allows for only key points Science/nature study notebooks-notes to correspond to sketches are meant to be short lists which focus on key points

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