Write A Summary

ESL Writing Activities

This ESL writing lesson helps students practice summary writing with video prompts. It covers the basics of summaries and works well for high beginner+ students.

Summary Writing

Step 1 What is a Summary?

Take a long story and make it short. Really short. A long story can be a movie, a book, a newspaper story or something you heard on the radio.

Summaries usually:

  • are much shorter than the original
  • include main ideas along with character, plot, setting
  • paraphrase words (no copying and pasting)
  • have a good opening sentence and conclusion

Step 2 Why is summarizing important?

  1. Thinking skill: separate the important from unimportant
  2. Organize: put information in logical order
  3. Build vocabulary: understand the words before paraphrasing

Step 3 Watch a Video

Purpose:  practice describing things and ideas

What to do: watch a video and make notes. Your final story will be a one-page summary that describes two things:

  1. the story (setting, main characters, plot) and main ideas;
  2. your idea about the story’s message.

Part 1 is descriptive and factual. The hard part is to focus on the main parts and don’t include too many details. Part 2 is your idea. Be sure to include reasons.

Video for the ESL Class


One of my favorites. Good story with a simple message. There’s no dialogue, so it’s a good choice for an ESL writing class with high beginners.

The Night the Moon Fell from John Bashyam on Vimeo.

The ending is kind of flat, but if students get past the low comedy there is a message in the story. No dialogue and a simple plot.


ECHOS from NALEB on Vimeo.

There’s a simple plot and a complex message. Save this video for high intermediate classes because students might need to brainstorm a few ideas before writing. No dialogue.


Gravity from Ailin Liu on Vimeo.

Another simple plot with a challenging message that can be interpreted in many ways. No dialogue.


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