Writing is Thinking: Summarize and Analyze

Is writing a simple act of organizing words on a piece of paper? No, writing is more than that. Writing is thinking. So the question for teachers is, how do we get students learning English to think? One way is to ask students to summarize and analyze.

Summarize and Analyze

I find students learning English respond well to a writing lesson based on an interesting video. English writing lessons that ask students to read a piece and respond with a summary and analysis are okay; I use that teaching technique occasionally with higher level classes. High beginner and intermediate students need easy comprehensible input, which a video provides.

For most classes, I make sure the syllabus has two writing lessons with a video; usually a couple weeks before the midterm and final exams.

What is a summary?

A good summary does a few things. It tells the reader about:

  • character – the main people in the story
  • setting – time and place
  • plot – the action, what happens

The art of summary writing is knowing what to leave out. Too much detail is bad. Not enough detail is bad, too.

For most videos, a good summary is 1 to 3 paragraphs.

What is an analysis?

Most students don’t really know the meaning of the word, so I explain briefly:

  • you take a big thing and divide into smaller pieces
  • then you study the small pieces and talk about how they connect with each other

That’s a little vague, so I give an example: how can we analyze the economy? What categories might we look at?

After a few minutes of grumbling, we get to the point where students think of many aspects of an economy:

  • manufacturing
  • service industries, like schools and hospitals
  • exports
  • imports
  • retails stores
  • logistics

Analysis can be many things. When talking about stories in videos, we don’t go too heavy. I generally ask students to do a couple of things, like answer these questions:

  • What is the message of the story?
  • Does the story teach us something which is bigger than the story itself?
  • What claims does the story make? Are they true or accurate?
  • What do you think?

I encourage students to add their own ideas to the analysis, so asking for their opinions makes the whole writing exercise a little more thoughtful, reflective and personal. And hopefully more interesting.

Generally, I encourage students to view the summary as a section that describes the facts in the story. The second part, which is the more interesting section, is what they think.

ESL Video Lessons

Finding good video content for students learning English is time consuming. Generally, I prefer videos that are 3 to 6 minutes in length. And of course, I am mindful of the need for family friendly content.

Here are 4 of my favorite videos for English writing lessons.

1  Why Your Life is Not a Journey

My favorite video lesson to use with second year university students.

The content is relevant and the ideas are compelling. It’s also a good English lesson to teach analogies. If you want more, here is a longer English writing lesson plan for this video.

Alan Watts & David Lindberg – Why Your Life Is Not A Journey from David Lindberg on Vimeo.


2  Howl

Great for all English levels, this video also generates lots of interesting student analyses. The ending is very cool.

Howl from Natalie Bettelheim on Vimeo.


3  Room 8

Dark and stirring, this story works best with intermediate to high level student who are able to see that the story is a metaphor. In that regard, the video is a starting point for much a deeper philosophical analysis which asks, “Are we really free?”

Imagination Series: Room 8 (3 of 5) from Bombay Sapphire on Vimeo.


4  Unsatisfying

Great for all ages and all levels, there really isn’t a story.It’s sentence drill practicing verbs disguised as a fun video. Here’s a longer lesson plan for this video.




That’s it. Enjoy the English writing lessons and activities.


Here’s one more video that might be useful for your own idea development. In this TEDx presentation, the speaker talks about how he uses summary and analysis to teach writing in his English classes.



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