Lesson plan

What's the Big Idea? Summarizing Nonfiction Texts

Understanding the big idea of a nonfiction text and being able to write a succinct summary are key fourth grade skills. This lesson focuses on summarizing a nonfiction passage in three to four sentences.
Need extra help for EL students? Try the Adjectives in Informational Texts pre-lesson.
EL Adjustments
Grade Subject View aligned standards
Need extra help for EL students? Try the Adjectives in Informational Texts pre-lesson.

Students will be able to write a three- to four-sentence summary on nonfiction texts.

The adjustment to the whole group lesson is a modification to differentiate for children who are English learners.
EL adjustments
(5 minutes)
  • Tell students that knowing how to summarize a nonfiction text is a skill that will help them in the future.
  • Inform them that knowing how to clearly state the main points of an informational text is important when they read news articles or watch videos related to science or social studies.
  • Tell students that today they will practice identifying the main idea of a text to write a three- to four-sentence summary.
(10 minutes)
  • Write the word summary on a piece of chart paper, and tell students that a summary is a brief overview of the main points of a text. Tell them that when we think of a summary, we think of the main idea, not the details. The summary should tell what the text is mainly about. Record this information in a concept map format on the chart paper.
  • Explain to students that today they will first practice identifying the main idea of nonfiction texts before they learn how to write summaries.
  • Display the Comparing Two Nonfiction Texts worksheet on the document camera and read aloud the two texts, pausing to answer any student questions.
  • Model aloud how you decipher the topic and main idea of the text. Highlight the sections of the text (in the introduction and conclusion) that provide evidence for the main idea and complete the table provided. Answer the question at the bottom of the worksheet to show your thinking.
  • Emphasize that even though the two texts are on the same topic (hurricanes), their main ideas are different. Therefore, the summary for Text 1 would be different from the summary for Text 2.
(10 minutes)
  • Distribute highlighters and the Writing a Nonfiction Summary: Sharks worksheet to students, and display a copy on the document camera.
  • Read aloud the story once. Ask students to point out any vocabulary words they are unfamiliar with, and create a Word Wall for any unknown words. Briefly define the words, and add a quick sketch, when applicable.
  • Direct students to read the text once again independently.
  • Highlight sections of the text that are vital to the summary, and instruct students to do the same.
  • Call on student volunteers to help you write a four sentence summary on the text. Each student should contribute one sentence until the class agrees on a succinct and polished summary. Guide them, as needed, towards capturing the main ideas of the text in only four sentences.
  • Indicate the supporting details by underlining them, and reiterate that they do not belong in your summary. Remind students that a summary should only include the main ideas of a text.
(15 minutes)
  • Distribute the Writing a Nonfiction Summary: Mimic Octopus worksheet to students and instruct them to practice writing a nonfiction text summary on their own.
  • Tell students to read the text twice before highlighting the main ideas that will become part of their summaries.
  • Have students turn to a table partner and verbally share the main points of the text before they write their summary.
  • Circulate and offer assistance as needed.


  • During Independent Work time, read aloud the text to students in a small group and assist them in highlighting the main points.
  • Provide a paragraph frame to students who need extra support in their writing.


  • Provide a more difficult nonfiction text such as the Soccer: Nonfiction Text worksheet for students to summarize.
  • Write a summary about a nonfiction topic your students have studied recently in class. Then, have them write an essay with supporting details, based on the summary.
(10 minutes)
  • Form students into groups of three or four and instruct them to share their summaries from the Independent Work Time with each other.
  • Ask students to compare their summaries and collaboratively choose one summary to read aloud to the whole class.
  • Listen to each group's summary choice, and compliment the summary. Ask students to justify why they chose this summary by stating: "We chose this summary because it ____" (i.e., mentions all the big ideas about sharks in the text).
  • Use this activity as an assessment on meeting the lesson's objective.
(5 minutes)
  • Hand out a sticky note to each student and have them complete the following sentence stem: "A nonfiction text summary is ____."
  • Invite a few students to share their sentences and discuss their varying answers.
  • Instruct students to place their sticky note on the chart paper as they exit the classroom to use as reminders for the next nonfiction summary they write in class.

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