Reading and Summarizing Nonfiction: Coding the Text

The lesson I am sharing with you all today is one small lesson in a GIANT Reading and Summarizing Nonfiction unit. You can click HERE to read about our fiction summaries.

First and foremost, my students struggle with summarizing nonfiction.  The problem is that nonfiction passages are usually JAM-PACKED with information (some of which is not that important). I realized that my students were struggling with this when we immediately jumped into coding the text. I handed out highlighters and asked students to highlight important information in a short paragraph and cross off interesting or irrelevant information (code the text). I received the short paragraphs back with every word highlighted. OY!  Time to go back to the drawing board, switch up my entire lesson, and have myself a good ‘ol teachable moment!

After my revelations, I asked my students:

Pulling from previous lessons we brainstormed these ideas together:

We then discussed that finding important information in a text helps you, as a reader, to understand the text. It helps you to understand what you need (think interesting/irrelevant vs. important), and it helps you to remember what the text is about.

We then reviewed our “code the text” lesson. Coding the text can be used a number of different ways. If you read my “Writing Long Off Post-Its” lesson from a few weeks back, many teachers view the “stopping and jotting” as coding. We were simply coding for interesting vs. important information in nonfiction passages.

It was very interesting to hear their thoughts on this, but it was also fun to see the lightbulbs go off.

*Side note: this lesson was done after our unit on nonfiction text features. So, when talking to my kids about how to know if something is interesting vs. important, I kept saying, “Remember to look at your title and subtitles. These features tell you what you are about to read and help you to focus in on the topic.”

After the mini-lesson, I handed each student a very short, nonfiction reading passage. It was actually a 3rd/4th grade passage, which was PERFECT to start this lesson. As you read in my previous summarizing post, it’s all about GOING SLOW, MODELING and GRADUAL RELEASE!

To start, we worked together and  I modeled one passage to “code the text” (highlight important information and cross off interesting information). Then, I let my students go and  “code the text” on their own. As my students got better, they began seeing that specific examples were always interesting, but almost never important to the text.

In the above picture, I LOOOVE that this kid highlighted the title. This helped him focus in on finding the important information on how things move vs. all the other irrelevant information in the paragraph about the metric system, customary measurements, etc.

Now that my students have had practice, we have introduced Close Reading into our classroom, and students use my Mark Up the Text printable to guide their annotation of a text. You can grab this document in any of my Close Reading Resources below.

Mark Up the Text Printable by Kristine Nannini
Do you need resources for students to work with? Check out my Close Reading Packs below!

You can now get all of the above Close Reading resources at a discount in this bundle. Click the button below to check it out!

Close Reading Bundle by Kristine Nannini


New! Plants Close Reading:


  1. I love this way of narrowing the reading down to the important parts!! And your anchor charts are so neat and pretty! Do you do them ahead of time, or is this the chart made with the students?

    My Journey to 5th Grade


    1. Thanks for your comments Julie! This lesson was big for my kids. I make my anchor charts with them always. I never think they’re cute enough, so thank you!! ;)

  2. It’s often difficult for students to differentiate between important and unimportant part of NF text.

    One thing that has helped students is to have them look for “chunks”. Find paragraphs that seem to go together and decide HOW they are alike. Also, notice that the paragraphs within sections are chunks.

    When students can name the chunks, they are able to more easily find main ideas and important information.

  3. What a great idea, Janet! Thank you for this. We are still working on this concept. It most definitely is not an easy concept for students to master, no matter what grade.

  4. Anonymous says:

    I’m a student and I was wondering if you have anymore helpful tips to summarize a nonfiction writing piece…

  5. Anonymous says:

    Hi Kristine! Wondering about the next part in the lesson- how did it go?? Any posts on it?

  6. Anonymous says:


  7. Anonymous says:


  8. bmichaels says:

    This post was incredibly helpful! My partner teacher and I just taught coding & summarizing and the students loved the challenge of finding the main idea and deciding their topic for coding. Great resource!

  9. Is there somewhere on your site that you have the anchor chart “Stop and Jot” without all of the sticky notes on it?

  10. Hi,
    It was an awesome blog.I like it very much…
    Thanks for sharing..

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