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Learn to Write English: Summaries

Teach Writing Skills in English

Knowing how to write a summary is one of the most important skills an ESL student can learn in English class. Writing a summary well means students are able to understand the text, find the main idea and filter out the unnecessary information. Summary writing involves many critical thinking skills like analyzing, evaluating and organizing.

This online lesson helps ESL students improve writing and thinking skills with two practice exercises.

How to Write a Summary?

Telling students how to write a summary is quite simple. Basically, the task of writing a summary is as follows:

  • Find the main idea.

This task requires deep thinking because a text rarely has a single sentence telling the reader the main idea, like “The main idea of this essay is …”

  • Summarize the main idea in a sentence.

With lower level students, I ask the class to write the main idea in a sentence or two. With higher level students, I want the main idea in the form of an argument. More details about this kind of sentence can be found in this post about a thesis sentence or this post about writing arguments.

  • Provide examples and evidence.

Once students have captured the main idea in a sentence, they need some proof. This is a challenge for many ESL students because they do not know what to include and what to exclude.

I suggest this strategy.

Look for the words or phrases in the main idea sentence. Each key word needs one or two sentences which give the examples or essential information readers need to understand the main idea – but every detail in the story.

Usually, a main idea sentence will have 2 to 4 keys words or phrases. That means a summary paragraph will have about 3 to 6 sentences.

ESL Teaching Materials

Here are two summary writing exercises. Each worksheet has a one page text. Students read the story and then summarize the main in a paragraph.

A sample answer is provided. I color-coded the sample summary to help students see the connections between the main idea sentence and the content in the paragraph body.

Practice Writing #1: Twitter

The relatively easy vocabulary in this short story makes it a good choice as the first summary writing exercise, or for high beginner+ classes.

Practice Writing #2: Popcorn and Movies

A slightly longer story with more challenging vocabulary, this practice lesson is suitable for intermediate+ classes.


Teach writing?

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