4th Grade - Writing Summaries

Writing summaries
Write summaries that contain the main ideas of the reading selection and the most significant details.
The ability to summarize the main ideas and most significant, or important, details of a reading selection. The main idea can be displayed in a topic sentence while the details can be supporting sentences.

Sample Problems


What is a summary? (a synopsis or review of a text – it is short and brief)


How do you summarize? (you identify the main ideas and topics of the text and restate them using as few words as possible)


What are main ideas? (the major thoughts presented in a text – the repeated concepts that stand out)


What are details? (facts, small bits of information, ideas, specific characteristics, etc.)


What does significant mean? (important, main, valuable, etc.)

Learning Tips


Use a Tree Map diagram to organize the structure of your paragraphs before writing. Write the text title or thesis (overall main idea) of your summary on the top line. Then write the main ideas for each of your paragraphs below. You can just use keywords in a graphic organizer like this – you don’t have to use complete sentences. Below each main idea, write the most significant details that will support that main idea. Each branch then represents the main ideas and details for a paragraph. This is just one way to use a Tree Map – try to find other ways that meet your needs!


Here’s a challenge: practice summarizing your favorite books, articles, or television episodes or movies in five (5) sentences or less!


Television show:

Spongebob Squarepants – “Texas”

One day while playing, Spongebob Squarepants and Patrick the starfish didn’t know what Texas was and this made Sandy the squirrel sad and homesick. Spongebob and Patrick tried everything they could to cheer Sandy up, but Sandy was still sad and sang a song about Texas and how much she loved and missed her homeland. Spongebob and Patrick took what they learned from the song and threw a surprise party for Sandy with a Texas theme to cheer her up. When Sandy finally arrived at the party and saw the Texas theme was completely wrong, she laughed so hard she cried! Her friends thought she was still very sad until Sandy said, “Home is where you’re surrounded by other critters that care ‘bout ya,” which is when Sandy realized she was home in Bikini Bottom all along.


Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt

Tuck Everlasting takes place in Treegap, where Winnie Foster and the Tuck family live. One day Winnie discovers Jesse Tuck drinking water from a spring on her family’s property that grants eternal life. He and his family tell Winnie their secret and Jesse invites her to join them once she turns 17 years old. She comes to love them as friends and keeps their secret. They get in trouble and have to leave for some time, but return to Treegap many years later to visit her to find out if she had chosen to be immortal as well.


Read a text of your choice with two different colored pens or highlighters handy. Underline or highlight the main ideas of the text with one color, and the most significant details of the text with another color. The more texts you practice this skill on, the more you will see patterns!


After reading a story, look at the front & back covers and the inside flaps and pages to see if there are any comments or reviews about the book. If not, look up the book on a website such as Amazon.com. Do the reviews pull out significant details from the story, main ideas, or both? If you had to summarize the book in a review, what would you write?


If you can, take a text (magazine, newspaper, copy of a page from a book, etc.) cut up several paragraphs from a story – separating the main ideas from the significant details. If you’re unsure how to categorize something, discard it. Then sort all of the main ideas and details. They do not have to be in chronological order of how they were written in the story. If you read just one group, do you still understand the gist of the story?

Extra Help Problems


Where in a text can you often find main ideas? (in topic sentences or near the beginning of paragraphs)


Where in a text can you often find details? (in supporting sentences of paragraphs, in long descriptions, etc.)


How can you tell the difference between main ideas and details? (main ideas are overall statements that explain a concept that the paragraph’s details will elaborate on)


What happens when you “shrink” a text? (you solidify, or highlight, the most significant ideas)


What is included in good introductory and closing paragraphs? (they include all the essential information about a text – including the title, author, moral or purpose)


What is included in the middle of a story summary? (the basic storyline’s main ideas and important details)


What is the length of a “short” paragraph? (about five sentences or less)


How many details should support a main idea? (there is no exact number – simply as many as needed depending on how complex the idea is)


What is another reference for a main idea? (a big idea)


After reading a story, can you determine a main idea when given a set of details? (yes)


After reading a story, can you list significant details when given a set of main idea? (yes)


What does vice versa mean? (either way)


Can summaries contain only main ideas? (yes)


What is a book review? (someone’s opinion of a book, usually includes a summary)


Are book editors and critics the only people that can write book reviews? (no – anyone that reads a book can review it, but might not have their review published!)


When reviewing or summarizing books, what are often cited from the text as significant details? (important quotes from the story)



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