Summarizing Fiction Texts Simplified!

Seems simple, RIGHT? Read a chapter, write a summary…

Our students see this a lot, whether it be on our reading assessments, in our own classroom work, or on our state assessments.

Bottom line, we want our kids to be proficient (and feel confident) in taking out the important elements from a piece of text, both fiction and non-fiction. We want our zealous little readers to be able to get at the heart of the matter when writing summaries, and we want them to be able to do it in as few words as possible.

Unfortunately, we sometimes forget that our students need to be taught “HOW” to break down a larger piece of text into a short, brief, to the point summary.

I must say, our summary writing is most definitely a work in progress, but I am proud of the hard work my kids put in so far!
Here’s what the beginning of our unit looked like:
I broke this unit into two separate mini-units. One for fiction summary writing and another for non-fiction summary writing. This blog post will be entirely devoted to the beginning stages of our fiction summaries.
I decided on a very specific format for writing our fiction summaries, the very popular “Someone, Wanted, But, So, Then” organizer. This summarizing strategy comes from an older book titled; Responses to Literature. Those authors were on to something! ;)

Obviously, since the whole problem-solution narrative format tends to be the easiest, I figured this would be a great place to start.

You can grab these two FREE graphic organizers by clicking HERE. They are a free sample from my Summarizing: Differentiated Reading Passages and Questions found HERE.
FREE! Graphic Organizers: Summarizing Fiction Texts Simplified! - Young Teacher Love by Kristine Nannini
To begin with, we discussed what a summary is. I then expanded the above graphic organizer onto our anchor chart to introduce this strategy to my students and to really drive home the ideas of summarizing fiction.
Summarizing Anchor Chart - Young Teacher Love by Kristine Nannini
Summarizing Anchor Chart - Young Teacher Love by Kristine Nannini
With the first lesson, we discussed narrative text vs. expository text and more specifically discussed the narrative format of problem-solution. I did a very brief mini-lesson revisiting mentor texts that we had already used to discuss the problem-solution structure of narratives. I discussed that narratives are “stories” and should be read as such. We discussed that it is important to pay attention to events in a story versus taking out facts when reading a non-fiction or expository text.
Here are the mentor texts we used:
Summarizing Mentor Texts - Young Teacher Love by Kristine Nannini
Although the above books are great books to use for this unit, I did not use them for the purpose of summary writing. Instead, I chose a chapter out of our current read aloud: Among the Hidden by Margaret Haddix. I chose this because my kids’ biggest problem with writing fiction summaries is that they include irrelevant information. By choosing a chapter from a book that we are currently reading, a lot of the details are fresh in their minds, and I can easily note where they’re adding in extra or irrelevant details.
Summarizing Anchor Chart - Young Teacher Love by Kristine Nannini
To start, I copied the chapter, passed it out, and gave each student a copy of the above graphic organizer. Some students felt confident enough to fill it out as we read, others needed my help.
After reading the passage, we walked slowly through each of the steps below:
FREE! Graphic Organizers: Summarizing Fiction Texts Simplified! - Young Teacher Love by Kristine NanniniYou can grab this FREE graphic organizer by clicking HERE.
First, we identified the character in relation to the problem of the text. I broke it down like this: The character who is “going through something” is the Someone.
Second, we discussed that what the character wants, or what their goal is (in relation to the problem) is the Wanted.
Next, we worked to figure out what the obstacle is that is getting in the way of the character reaching their goal and identified this as the But.
Then, we pulled out what the character did or how they reacted to the problem they were facing as the theSo.

Lastly, we agreed on the solution to the problem or the outcome as the Then.

Summarizing Anchor Chart - Young Teacher Love by Kristine Nannini
It was hard for some, but when I showed them how you could take those individual sticky notes and put them together to write a summary, they were pretty flabbergasted!
Summarizing Anchor Chart - Young Teacher Love by Kristine Nannini

In addition to practicing with the above mentor texts, we also practiced with differentiated passages from my Summarizing: Differentiated Reading Passages and Questions found HERE.

FREE! Graphic Organizers: Summarizing Fiction Texts Simplified! - Young Teacher Love by Kristine Nannini

Having differentiated passages ready to go at three different levels has been so helpful to master this skill.

Summarizing Fiction Texts Simplified! - Young Teacher Love by Kristine Nannini

I got a few, THAT’S IT? and WHERE HAS THIS BEEN ALL MY LIFE! comments. I was cracking up. Unfortunately, my friends, this is just the beginning.

Questions I asked my readers today: What happens when the author does not use the format of problem-solution? What about when an author doesn’t present the information in the exact order that the graphic organizer is laid out? What happens when the author doesn’t come out and neatly provide the reader with any of the above information but instead uses figurative language or forces the reader to infer things like problems and solutions?

The above questions will be our next feat to tackle! But, until then, we are practicing, practicing, and practicing some more!

Writing Summaries - Young Teacher Love by Kristine Nannini

These resources are now digital! Use them as a part of your digital or distance learning.

What are some tips and tricks you use for teaching higher level summary writing and non-fiction summary writing?

In addition to using the Someone, Wanted, But, So, Then strategy, I also guide students to dig a bit deeper with their reading in my Summarizing: Differentiated Reading Passages and Questions. The goal of this resource is to help students sharpen their ability to summarize. It provides students with a practical process that initially guides them to relevant information from the text using the Someone, Wanted, But, So, Then strategy in a graphic organizer. I also ask them to read a summary and identify different issues (irrelevant details, opinions, not enough information, retelling events out of order, etc.) Once students progress through this resource and become familiar with the summary-writing process, I remove the use of a graphic organizer and ask them to write their own summaries. Additionally, they are asked to make increasingly-detailed critiques of other summaries to identify issues and explain how to improve the summary. You can see the entire resource by clicking HERE or the button below.

Summarizing: Differentiated Reading Passages and Questions by Kristine Nannini

Free Graphic Organizers by Kristine Nannini

This resource is now included in a large bundle with over 300 differentiated passages. Click HERE or the button below to check it out!

This bundle includes 20 total resources – 10 Informational Text and 10 Fiction Differentiated Passages and Questions. Click HERE or the button below.


  1. This is a great post! You are a fabulous blogger! You should see about publishing your ideas. You really have a way with words.

    I also teach my kids the SWBST strategy but we also add a Finally onto it to sum up the story in one more final way.

    For non-fiction, I teach my kids to find key words then turn the key words into a summary.

    Teaching to Inspire in 5th

  2. I use the same format as well, but I added a ‘finally’ to help my kids wrap up their thinking. I like to use picture books that I’ve read to them to do as a whole class lesson…I think they remember those the best!

    :) Kaitlyn
    Smiles and Sunshine

  3. I use a graphic organizer, but I think I like this one better! We also use stickies. We do a lot of summarizing in our responses to text :)

  4. Thanks for your comments ladies, and for reading my blog!

    I do like the “finally” idea and was thinking about adding this element in this week since my kids feel confident with what we’ve done thus far!

    @Kristen- I should own a percentage of Post-Its since I use them so much. ;)

    The coordinate mystery pictures are on the way!

  5. I think the key is doing it over and over, starting with smaller picture type books and then expanding into chapter books. Lots of modeling!

    tokyoshoes (at) hotmail (dot) com

  6. I just found that summarizing organizer last week and I LOVE it!! It’s so helpful for my students, plus it allows them to start writing independently without saying “I don’t know what to wriiiiite” (can you hear that voice in your head? lol) I love the chart you made to go with it! I may do that this week! =)

    The Resource Room Teacher
    I’m having a linky party!

  7. Thanks so much for your comments ladies! You’re right about going slow and modeling Suzy! It has gone VERY slow, but I am so happy I took so much time to model it with my kids, because it’s paying off!

    @Ashley- I can totally hear it! ;) Isn’t this graphic organizer the best? Thank you for your comment!

  8. Wow! It’s seriously hard to believe that you’re a “young” teacher. You have such great ideas… I don’t think you need many tips or tricks! =) I absolutely love this way of summarizing!It makes it a lot easier for them to understand. My kids struggle with taking this type of organizer and then writing the summary. They are a few years younger than yours though, so I don’t feel so bad. I’ll just keep modeling, modeling, modeling. =) Keep up the amazing work!
    Sister Teachers

  9. @Jackie- That is the sweetest thing. I AM a young teacher (well…4th year now!) I appreciate your kind comments, they mean so much! My kids struggled SO much too in the beginning, but when I kept modeling and practicing with them day after day we had some MAJOR breakthroughs!

    @RealOCteachers- THANK YOU! I teach it a lot as well. It really is a super important skill to have (though not always the easiest to teach!)

  10. I had good luck teaching summary by having students find the 5Ws and H (who, [did] what, where, when, why, how).

    I had much better luck when it became who, [wanted] what, where, when, why and how. The _wanted_ (as you have it) is critical to getting at the character’s internal characteristics.

    Teaching summary really gets students to the heart of a story :).

  11. So I’ve never used this format to teach summary writing, but I think all that will soon have to change. We usually spend time making flow maps and plot charts of the story to work on summarizing, but they do have trouble with pulling out unimportant details. Thanks for sharing this!

  12. Kristine–We are living parallel lives (sort of). We’re finishing up informational summarization and moving back into fiction, however. I won’t lie–it was tricky! The 5th grade CCSS of finding more than one main idea & summarizing is open to all sorts of interpretation. It was good, but HARD. I am beyond thrilled to be returning to the familiar strategy you mention, and even more thrilled to see your example with Among the Hidden! I read it to my kids every year, and we refer back to it all year long. Thanks for sharing your chapter summarization work.

  13. We are preparing for DRA two assessments also. I also use the somebody, wanted, but, so, then, strategy. I swear by it! It helps the kids Get to the heart/Lesson learned of the story so much better than a listing of important events. Thanks for sharing your anchor charts! They are always super cute!

  14. This is great! I just found your blog, and am glad I did! I am currently teaching resource room (mostly push-in, co-teaching) and it is amazing how many of the intermediates (4-6) cannot write a summary!

  15. I will put this item in my wish list because here in Colombia teachers don´t teach how to sumarize. I´ts incredible that you will find college students who doesn´t know how to make a summary. We need to change that. Thanks!

    Teacher’s clipart blog

  16. I have been looking for something to help my kids grasp summarizing and this is perfect! Thanks so much. I can’t stop buying your stuff at the TPT store!

  17. Thanks for the shout out about the graphic organizer! I love using this resource with my students. It helps them keep focused on a summary as opposed to a retelling!
    One Happy Teacher

  18. This is my first year teaching and I have a wonderful class of 5th graders. I have been struggling with how to mix up my reading lessons. Having them respond on Post-it’s so that they can fill in a large anchor chart is awesome. Thanks for the great ideas!

  19. Wow! This is an amazing blog! Super interesting, LOVE the set up! Have you thought about joining the yearly EduBlogs Challenge? It gives students and teachers a chance to check out other blogs! Some of the info is on our school blog! (:

  20. This is most helpful. I thought I had a great way of teaching fictional summary writing, but the more I try to clarify it for the students, the more I am struggling to define exactly how they should pick out only the most important information. I was using M+2D where M is the main event or idea and the 2D is two related details. The tricky part in fiction is picking out just one event from a chapter for your M. You could choose one every few pages, or one for the whole chapter. I guess that the fact that it changes relative to the length of the text that you need to summarize makes it difficult. (If I’ve read a 20 page chapter, how do I even start picking just one main event?)

    I like the method you outlined here, and I want to play with it more for my own purposes before presenting it to my sixth graders. Thanks!

  21. Hi,
    I used your graphic organiser today with my Year 5 class- they loved it! It made it so much easier to summarise. the text. Thank you
    PS You may have noticed by my spelling that I am an Australian teacher from Melbourne.
    I will be back for more inspiration! :)

  22. Anonymous says:

    Thank you so much! This is great!

  23. This lesson went so well this week! Last year, summarizing was really tough for my kids because I used a different strategy that didn’t help step them through the plot well. This year, I feel like I they produced great fiction summaries the FIRST time around. That’s huge. Thanks!

  24. What a great idea! I am a huge fan of Response to Literature! Did you use all 4 of those mentor texts to teach problem solution?

    1. Kristine Nannini says:

      Amanda- Thanks for your kind words! Sometimes I use all four, and other years I have only used one or two. It really just depends on my class and how much practice they need.

  25. “Questions I asked my readers today: What happens when the author does not use the format of problem-solution? What about when an author doesn’t present the information in the exact order that the graphic organizer is laid out? What happens when the author doesn’t come out and neatly provide the reader with any of the above information but instead uses figurative language or forces the reader to infer things like problems and solutions?”

    Do you have any answers for these questions? I love how you laid this out, but I would love some help with when writing gets tricky.

  26. Thank you so much for sharing the Organizer for Summarizing. My daughter loves reading, but dreads writing summaries. I think this will help her easily write them for class assignments.

    1. Kristine Nannini says:

      I’m so glad to hear, Karelli! Thanks for your comments!

    2. Kristine Nannini says:

      Thanks so much, Karelli! I’m so happy to hear it will help her! :)

  27. I’ve been having a hard time using the right strategy for my 1st grader, and was looking for some help online (I knew I couldn’t be the only parent with this problem!). I like the way you’ve outlined getting to the details of the summary, and am going to give this a try next week onward. Thank you!

    1. Kristine Nannini says:

      Thanks so much for your comments, Dee. I hope my strategies help! :)

  28. Jennifer Westerheide says:

    Do you have a teaching plan/ graphic organizer for non-fiction summary writing? Thank you for all of your guidance in all of your writings!

      1. So happy to be here,great website i like the template of a site.Great work done by developer.

  29. Tehmina Kashif says:

    Hello Kristine,

    I must say, your a saviour :)… I was looking for some cool ideas as how to teach my daughter who is in grade 1 to write a summary in an easy and best way. and there i found your page. perfect. excellent and so damn useful.

    Thanks a million…

    1. Kristine Nannini says:

      I’m so happy to hear that! Thanks so much, Tehmina!

  30. I teach first grade, and we are about to start our Reading Fair! (Like a science fair, only with digging into a book, instead of digging into a science experiment.)

    The kids will be comparing characters, finding the moral/theme, finding the problem and solution, etc. To get them ready for 2nd grade, I am adding in a summarizing component, and this graphic organizer will be great to aid them in that first attempt!

    They’ll finish it up by writing their review/opinion of their book (our writing focus right now!), and then present their posters to the class.

    Thanks for creating and sharing this!

  31. My students are able to accomplish this task for a smaller book or a few chapters at a time, like the examples you use with your class. They really struggle when they need to apply it to the whole chapter book. My school requires trimester book reports in which they need to write a 10-15 sentence summary. Any suggestions on applying this skill to a whole chapter book?

  32. Hollie Carroll says:

    Great post. Thanks! I like such informative and useful posts and I also share them with readers at different blogs. For example I found one more interesting article here about effective summarizing strategies and tips. So I believe it is worth reading!

  33. I really like your ideas and resources. I’m all about finding ways to teach things so that it makes clear sense to the students. So this is fantastic. Thank you and God bless all your efforts and endeavours.

    1. Kristine Nannini says:

      Thank you so much, Carolyn! I appreciate your kind words!

  34. Obat radang lambung says:

    Thank you so much admin is already providing the information to us and here we are sorry permission to share articles may be useful and helpful

  35. i’m late to this party but I am using this idea too and love it. I had my kids use a slides presentation for each of the parts.I prepared it for them and sent it to them on google classroom.They have really caught onto this method, too!

  36. cara mengobati syaraf kejepit says:

    Thank you so much admin is already providing the information and sorry I share articles here may be useful and help

  37. Olessia Bordioug says:

    Spasibo! (This means “Thank you” in Russian) I teach in the Russian Immersion program, 5th grade. I love your blogs. I am very grateful for your brilliant ideas that are very clear and engaging. You are an amazing teacher! Thank you!

    1. Kristine Nannini says:

      Hi Olessia- Thanks so much for your kind words! I am so happy to hear that my ideas are able to help you all the way in Russia! :)


    this summary guide is amazing! thank you so much!

    1. Kristine Nannini says:

      Thanks so much, Natalie!

  39. I’m a first year teacher and this information is awesome! Thank you!

    1. Kristine Nannini says:

      Thanks so much, Angela! I’m so glad to hear it helped!

  40. Eva Cambell says:

    Thank you for such useful information. Summarizing is one of those skills that can be very easy for a teacher however can be troublesome for students who have not been appropriately taught how to summarize correctly. For a long time I didn’t educate my seventh and eighth grade students how to condense and summarize paragraphs online. I would simply request that they abridge messages and afterward get distraught at them when they neglected to deliver quality synopses. I wasn’t right in doing this. Presently I generally teaching my students how to write summaries.

    1. Kristine Nannini says:

      Thanks so much for your comments, Eva!

  41. you are a great blogger! thank you so much for your effort. this blog helped me lot with my assignment. keep up the good work. :))

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