EL Support Lesson

Summary Writing with Big Ideas

Before students can respond to literature critically, they must have a strong grasp of big ideas and summary writing. Support your ELs in these foundational reading skills by introducing a three-sentence paragraph frame for summary writing.
This lesson can be used as a pre-lesson for the Five Ways to Respond to Literature lesson plan.
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This lesson can be used as a pre-lesson for the Five Ways to Respond to Literature lesson plan.

Students will be able to write a response to literature in more than one way.


Students will be able to differentiate between big ideas and details with transition words using graphic organizers and paragraph frames.

(3 minutes)
  • Orally give a summary about a story your students are familiar with. Include information about the main character, plot, conflict, and resolution. For example: "Goldilocks went into the three bears' house and ruined their breakfast, chairs, and beds. When the bears found her, they were angry. Goldilocks ran home and promised to never go back again."
  • Explain that you told a shortened version of the story in your own words. Point out the fact that you focused on big ideas, like who the main characters were, instead of details, like the temperature of the porridge.
  • Tell students that a short retelling that focuses on big ideas is called a summary. Write the key term on the board and tell students that they will practice summarizing with big ideas.
  • Review the language objective in student-friendly terms (e.g., "You will be using graphic organizers and sentence frames to figure out the difference between big ideas and details.").
(10 minutes)
  • Explain that the big ideas that we focus on when writing a summary are the main characters, plot, conflict, and resolution.
  • Display six vocabulary cards on the board ("big idea," "detail," "character," "plot," "conflict," "resolution"). Read each word and definition aloud, then invite students do a choral read aloud of each word.
  • Display a blank copy of a Frayer Model and model how to complete each section for the word "detail" (a small feature).
  • Hang up five large copies of the Frayer Model, spread out in the room. Write one of the remaining five vocabulary words on each of the posted organizers ("big idea," "character," "plot," "conflict," "resolution").
  • Divide students into five groups and assign each group a vocabulary word. Provide a different colored marker for each group and lead students through a carousel activity:
    • Give groups two minutes to discuss and fill out sections of their assigned Frayer Model. Tell students that they do not need to complete the entire organizer during this first rotation.
    • Have groups rotate to the next Frayer Model. Tell them to read the information from the previous group and add more information to the organizer. (Note: each subsequent rotation should last one minute.)
    • Continue rotating groups until all Frayer Models are complete. Then, have students stay where they are and invite each group to read the information for their vocabulary word aloud.
    • Correct any errors or misconceptions and leave the models posted for the duration of the lesson.
(8 minutes)
  • Hand out the Summary Writing: Big Ideas vs. Details worksheet and review the top section with students.
  • Explain that they will be differentiating between big ideas and details.
  • Sort two story parts as examples for students, modeling your thinking aloud.
  • Instruct students to work with a partner to sort the remaining six story parts. Then, call on student volunteers to share their answers with the class. Correct misconceptions as needed.
  • Complete the bottom section of the worksheet with the class (determine the four types of big ideas that were chosen in the previous activity). Call on students for input.
(10 minutes)
  • Hand out the Big Idea Summary worksheet and review the instructions.
  • Read the short text aloud as students follow along. Then, tell students to read the text a second time independently.
  • Instruct students to complete the remainder of the worksheet with a partner.
  • Invite students to share their answers with the class. Correct misconceptions as needed.
  • Call on a student volunteer to read their completed paragraph frame aloud to the class.


  • During the assessment activity, read the common text aloud before giving examples of big ideas and details.
  • Pre-teach challenging vocabulary that students may encounter in texts, like "papillon" (a type of dog).
  • Form groups and partnerships strategically so that beginning ELs are paired with students who speak their same home language.


  • Allow advanced ELs to use dictionaries and bilingual resources to look up new words that they encounter in texts.
  • Encourage advanced ELs to apply the skills learned in this lesson to summarize a text of their choice.
(5 minutes)
  • Using a story that students are familiar with, write an example of a big idea or detail on the board (e.g., "Hansel and Gretel got lost in the woods.").
  • Tell students to make a gesture if they think it is a big idea (e.g., two hands held a distance apart) or a different gesture if they think it is a detail (e.g., two fingers pinched together).
  • Observe student responses to gauge understanding.
  • Repeat several times, using the same story as inspiration. Randomly alternate between big ideas and details (e.g., "Hansel found a chicken bone in his cage.").
  • As you proceed through the activity, erase story parts that students identify as details and leave big ideas posted on the board.
  • Once there are several big ideas listed on the board, hand out an index card to each student.
  • Display a blank copy of the paragraph frame (from the Big Idea Summary worksheet) and instruct students to use the big ideas that are listed on the board to write a summary.
(3 minutes)
  • Explain to students that, as fifth graders, they will be expected to respond to literature (i.e., talk or write about stories). Emphasize that in order to critically respond to literature, they must first understand the big ideas. Remind them that writing a summary is a good way to think about big ideas and better understand a story.

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