The University of Iowa

Supporting Your Children's and Teens' Home Learning: Writing an Objective Summary

Mother and son fill out summarizing resource

Children can combine a topic sentence, transitions, and details to write an objective summary about a text.


Posted on: April 7, 2020

Editor’s note: While learning at home, children can make progress toward grade-level reading and writing standards. This post is part of an ongoing series designed to help caregivers support children’s and teens’ literacy learning at home.

Beginning in Grade 6, commonly used frameworks for literacy standards (such as the Common Core State Standards; National Governors Association for Best Practices & Chief School Officers, 2010) require students to write summaries of texts that are free from students’ personal opinions. Summarization improves reading comprehension (Graham & Hebert, 2011; Stevens et al., 2018) and writing skills (Graham et al., 2007). In addition, summarization is a strategy that can be practiced with literary or informational text during independent reading. The strategy can be applied to whole texts, such as novels or news articles, or portions of text, such as book chapters. Thus, it is a high-leverage literacy activity that you can use with your middle-school-age or high-school-age child at home.

A summary is a brief, concise statement of the most important information in a text (Solis et al., 2012). It includes key textual details and begins with a topic sentence that states the main idea of the text (Saddler et al., 2019). Importantly, summaries also include transition words and phrases that make logical connections between the textual details (Westby et al., 2010). Although summarization might seem like a relatively easy task for children, there are several common errors that children make while writing summaries. First, some children may include interesting or memorable details, rather than those that are most important to understanding the text (Williams, 2006). Second, children may copy textual details word-for-word, rather than writing the details in their own words (Asaro-Saddler et al., 2018). Third, students may include their opinions or judgments about what they read in the text, rather than providing textual details (Williams, 2006). Therefore, it is important to show your child how to summarize a text and provide them feedback about their summaries (Gillespie & Graham, 2014).

Your child can use the Writing an Objective Summary resource (see Supplemental Materials for Families) to practice summarization while reading independently. This resource contains the steps for identifying important textual details and writing a summary. After your child completes a summary, evaluate the summary using the checklist provided. Give your child feedback about specific ways to improve the summary, and ask them to revise the summary to address your feedback. In addition, be sure to praise your child for the checklist criteria they met in their summary and for any improvements made from previous summarization practice.

Supplemental Materials for Families

PDF iconWriting an Objective Summary

With this resource that includes a graphic organizer, children can follow a step-by-step set of instructions that leads them to write an objective summary that does not include any opinions or judgments.


Asaro-Saddler, K., Muir-Knox, H., & Meredith, H. (2018). The effects of a summary writing strategy on the literacy skills of adolescents with disabilities. Exceptionality, 28, 106–118.

Gillespie, A., & Graham, S. (2014). A meta-analysis of writing interventions for students with learning disabilities. Exceptional Children, 80, 454–473. 10.1177/0014402914527238

Graham, S., & Hebert, M. (2011). Writing to read: A meta-analysis of the impact of writing and writing instruction on reading. Harvard Educational Review, 81, 710–744.

Graham, S., & Perin, D. (2007). A meta-analysis of writing instruction for adolescent students. Journal of Educational Psychology, 99, 445–476.

National Governors Association Center for Best Practices & Council of Chief State School Officers (2010a). English language arts standards – anchor standards – College and career readiness standards for reading.

Saddler, B., Asaro-Saddler, K., Moeyaert, M., & Cuccio-Slichko, J. (2019). Teaching summary writing to students with learning disabilities via strategy instruction. Reading & Writing Quarterly, 35, 572–586.

Solis, M., Ciullo, S., Vaughn, S., Pyle, N., Hassaram, B., & Leroux, A. (2012). Reading comprehension interventions for middle school students with learning disabilities: A synthesis of 30 years of research. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 45, 327–340.

Stevens, E. A., Park, S., & Vaughn, S. (2018). A review of summarizing and main idea interventions for struggling readers in Grades 3 through 12: 1978–2016. Remedial and Special Education, 40, 131–149.

Westby, C., Culatta, B., Lawrence, B., & Hall-Kenyon, K. (2010). Summarizing expository texts. Topics in Language Disorders, 30, 275–287.

Williams, J. P. (2006). Stories, studies, and suggestions about reading. Scientific Studies of Reading, 10, 121–142.