Anchors Away Monday: Writing a Fiction Summary

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I have to be honest- summarizing is probably my least favorite ELA skill to teach.  It's just one of those topics that makes me want to groan when the time for teaching it rolls around each year.  (I'd love to know... are there concepts in your curriculum that you feel that way about?)

When I started co-teaching in 5th grade four years ago, Katie (my co-teacher) informed me one afternoon that summarizing was the next skill to cover.  I groaned.  She agreed.

I believe firmly that teachers should put forth their best effort to not impart their own negative feelings about a topic to students.  So I was determined to put a smile on my face and act like I summarized in my free time because it was just so fun.  I also knew that I wanted to try something other than the "Somebody Wanted But So" strategy.  I tried to teach that strategy once, and it was a disaster.  When students came to me needing assistance, I quickly realized that I don't think this formula fits for all books- not for the way my brain operates, anyhow.  (For example, if the story is about a kid who has to move to a new city and is heartbroken about having to leave his friends, is the best summary really "Ben WANTED to not have to move away from his friends, BUT his dad got a new job in another city SO they moved."?  In my opinion, no, that is not a stellar summary.  But it can be difficult to explain that to a fifth grader who points out that he got all of the "magic words" in there.)

Many of you will not be surprised that I devised my own strategy and related it to food!  Sweet food, in fact!  ICE CREAM SUNDAES!  Yum!  Doesn't that make your mouth water?  Hmmm... all of a sudden, the idea of writing a summary is a bit more enticing!

The first two years I did this, I brought play-doh to the fifth grade classrooms.  I sculpted a banana and cut it in half and told the students that these two banana halves represented characters and setting.  Then I formed three balls to represent the three scoops of ice cream, because a good summary addresses the three sections in the book- the beginning, the middle, and the end.  I flattened out a piece of brown play doh and put it on top of the first scoop of ice cream- the beginning is topped off with identifying the problem in the story.  I flattened out a topping for the middle scoop and told the students that the middle of a sundae summary is topped off with explaining the most important events.  I created a quick topping for the end scoop of ice cream and reminded them that the end is topped off with the resolution.  Finally, I sculpted a little cherry and told them that the cherry represents the theme, and that adding the theme in a sundae summary is optional.

Last year I created a PowerPoint version of this analogy to share with my friends on TpT.  I suggest using this (or the play-doh lesson above) on the first day of your summary unit.

After the concept has been introduced on Day 1, Day 2 is the perfect day to introduce an anchor chart.  At the beginning of class, my anchor chart looks like this:
Clip art by Aim Less Daze.

After a quick review of the parts of a sundae summary, I read one of my all-time favorite books by Margie Palatini, Piggie Pie! (Amazon affiliate link follows.)

After reading the book, we complete the anchor chart as a class:

Once the anchor chart is complete, I model how to take our anchor chart (which serves as our graphic organizer) to write a summary.  

You might notice that I did not write the theme in the summary.  I teach my students that adding the theme is optional.  I didn't feel like the theme we identified was a major part of this story, so I left it out.
Whew!  That wasn't so bad after all!  It's amazing how ice cream makes anything fun!

Feel free to check out my Summarizing FREEBIE for the interactive notebook!


  1. What a great idea to use something we all love to teach something a bit more bland! :) Thanks for the great ideas!!

    Mrs. Spangler in the Middle

  2. My students have a hard time summarizing. They always end up telling me the WHOLE thing all over again… But I agree that ice cream makes everything much better!
    Thanks for hosting this linky!

  3. I'm teaching summarizing next week! I'm going to borrow your sundae idea, and I'm going to check out this book from the library!