Summary Rounds

A Reading Activity to Enhance Comprehension: Summary Rounds

This activity consists of three rounds.
At any stage in the activity, you can focus the discussion on matters such as: difficult passages or terms around which there may still be confusion; how students discerned major points from examples, supporting evidence, or sub-arguments; what students noticed about the reading’s structure; whether this is a new genre they’re encountering; and what students learned about summary writing by engaging in the activity. You may even want to survey students about the extent of revision their own summaries needed once they had discussed the reading with classmates, or, depending on the course level, you might spend some time on basic summary conventions such as using attributive tags.
Round One:
For a difficult reading assignment, ask students to write a 250-word summary (or whatever you think would be an appropriate length), and bring 4-5 copies to class. In small groups, have students exchange and read each other’s summaries, marking up any points they think need to be changed or revised. I ask students to underline inaccuracies, mark passages that are the student’s views rather than author’s, and indicate with an asterisk any portion of the summary that provides disproportionate coverage of a minor point.  
When two summaries diverge in their understanding of some aspect of the assigned reading, students must examine the differences, consult the text for clarification, and debate which one is accurate. This discussion requires close, attentive reading, and in the process students will deepen or complicate other group members’ assumptions about particular points in the text.  Ultimately, the group’s goal is to come up with the most accurate summary to share with a larger group in round two.
Round Two:
This round serves as a “check point” to ensure that each group has accurately understood the material. Have two or more groups combine into a larger group, within which the original groups will read their group-composed summary out loud. The larger group then examines the differences and similarities in order to choose the best one. These are then shared aloud with the entire class as the basis for a deeper discussion and clarification of key concepts. It may also be an opportunity to evaluate the assigned reading’s logic, evidence, and/or methodology.
Round Three:
Ask each of the groups from round two to take its summary and condense it further (while also incorporating any necessary corrections or revisions). Have a representative from each group type the shorter summary on the computer so that the class can compare and contrast them. These shorter summaries require students to identify the center of the reading and distinguish it from important (but peripheral or supporting) arguments. Again, the class can debate differences among the shorter summaries. By this time, students should have a clear, accurate understanding of the reading, and they will also have discovered that such an understanding often requires several re-readings of the text.
For an extensive list of other reading/writing activities, I highly recommend the following webpage from Shelley Reid, Director of the Composition Program at George Mason University: Note that the activities go from basic to more advanced as you scroll down her page.
For students, you might assign A Guide to Effective Reading Strategies for Students from the University of Michigan: