Tag Archives: Summary

Teaching With Writing

While formal writing assignments outside of the classroom can be excellent tools for teaching and learning, there are also ways to effectively use writing in the classroom. By building short, informal writing activities into your lesson plans, you can help students understand important concepts and think through complex material.  Since these writing activities are quick and do not require grading or “correcting,” incorporating them into your class does not require an extensive time commitment.  You may choose to collect these writing activities and use them to assess student understanding of course material, or you can simply ask students to read their writing out loud to the class to generate discussion.  Just five or ten minutes of class time spent writing can help students develop skills to comprehend and remember key points, make connections between reading assignments or lectures, and effectively express their ideas about what they’re learning.

Benefits of using writing in class:

 It helps students to learn and retain key concepts from the course, and to think critically about those ideas.

It helps students to develop communication skills that are valuable in any academic or workplace setting, and to learn the writing conventions of your specific discipline.

It helps you to gauge student understanding of course material and identify concepts that need more elaboration.

How to use writing in class:

There are a number of ways to effectively use writing in the classroom.  Below are some of the most common examples:

Freewriting and Focused Freewriting


Student Questions


You can use writing in class to:

Drive and focus discussion.

When starting a discussion, ask students to freewrite about the important points they remember from the reading assignment or previous lecture.

When students seem confused or frustrated by the reading assignment, ask them to freewrite about what they do understand about the reading and/or to generate questions they have about the reading.  Alternatively, you can ask students to write on specific questions related to important concepts in the reading assignment.  By asking them to write on the same questions at the end of class, you can also see how their understanding of the reading has improved and which concepts they are still confused about.

When a discussion seems to be going in several different directions, has gone off on a tangent, or is being dominated by just a few students, ask students to spend a few minutes freewriting about the key ideas brought up in the discussion or about what they think would be the most productive direction for the conversation to take.  This can help students focus the conversation more productively, and allows you the opportunity to redirect the discussion.

Reinforce concepts

Ask students to summarize the reading or lecture, share their summaries with a partner, and help each other fill in the gaps.

Ask students to record the steps of a problem or process as they are working through it. This can also work as a Write/Pair/Share, as students can help each other identify holes or weaknesses in their problem-solving processes.

Assess student comprehension

At the beginning of class, ask students to summarize the most important points from the reading or previous lecture.

At the end of class, ask students to summarize the most important points from the day’s lecture and/or to identify ideas they are still confused about.

Further resources for using writing in the classroom:

The WAC Clearinghouse: Examples of Writing to Learn Activities: http://wac.colostate.edu/intro/pop5.cfm

University of Richmond Writing Across the Curriculum: Write to Learn Activities:




There are several different kinds of summaries, but one of the most common is the key point summary. An effective summary provides a fair, accurate, and objective overview of another writer’s text. Your job as the writer of a summary is to provide your readers with the most significant and pertinent information from the original source. Here are some guides to drafting an effective key point summary:

  1. Include the author and title information from the source you are summarizing: “John Smith’s 2009 article entitled ‘Office Antics’ is a study of the leading causes of an unproductive work environment.”
  2. Include the author’s main purpose for writing: “Smith contends that most offices can prevent poor productivity by paying attention to commonsense issues such as avoiding laziness, procrastination, and gossip in the workplace.”
  3. Provide several key points from the text that are essential for your readers to understand the arguments, perspectives, or ideas presented in the text. You should provide the key details involved in the text and/or outline the evidence that the author uses: “Smith describes an office setting where just a handful of lazy people negatively influence the overall productivity of the department. He argues that nearly 76% of office blunders are due to laziness.”
  4. Finish your summary with a statement that expresses the overall point of the text and attempts to recap the conclusion of the original text:  “Ultimately, John Smith suggests that companies take advantage of a number of seminars that are available to help employees become more aware of how to avoid pitfalls and increase efficiency in the work place.”

Some important summary writing tips to keep in mind:

Although you can use quotations in a summary, it may be a better option to paraphrase information from the original text. Paraphrasing is putting the author’s language into your own words. This can be a difficult task, but the best way to do it is to talk through the author’s ideas with other people until you have internalized them. After going through this process, it should be much easier for you to write a summary using your own words.

It is also important to use author tags. An author tag is when you use the author’s last name to attribute information to the author. For example, you might write, “Smith found that laziness resulted in 76% of office blunders.” Using the author tag “Smith” allows you to clarify that the information, data, or opinion comes from the author and not from you, the summarizer.

Overall, be fair and objective. A summary is not the appropriate writing situation to add your opinion. It is your job as the writer to provide an accurate and condensed account of the original text.