Succinct Summaries
Primary Market
Education, Primary Ed
Character Focus
Items Needed
2 Toobeez sets, short story, 20 index cards, tape, chart paper (optional)
The Activity Time
45 – 55 minutes


  • Succinct Summaries1Identify purposes for and characteristics of a good summary
  • Differentiate between details and main events
  • Communicate with peers to select the main events to include in the summary
  • Discuss and reflect on the experience
Character Focus
The Challenge

Determine the difference between the details and main events of a story to construct a “summary” from Toobeez.


Time: 1 minute


  • 2 Toobeez sets
  • short story
  • 20 index cards
  • tape
  • chart paper (optional)


  • Create a rectangular or cube tower that is three “stories” high (as pictured).
  • Write out 20 story bits on the index cards
Activity Plan

Time: 45 – 55 minutes

Space: Medium

Instruction: Whole class and pairs

Helpful Hints

  • Be sure to review these tips prior to beginning the activity, and if necessary, share reminders with the group during the activity.
  • You may use the story and materials provided in the Appendix,or you can select your own favorite story and develop the appropriate index cards
  • To save time, have students read the story prior to the lesson
  • Without revealing the answers, guide students through deciding between details and main events.Ask questions to help them
    determine the information that should be omitted from the summary. Refer back to your list of elements for a good summary if necessary
  • Number the index cards on the back as a reference to ensure the proper order of the story

Here are available Training Options!

Activity Instructions

1. Circle up the group.

Review the differences between retelling and summarizing (see below).

*A retelling is when a listener recalls an entire story in order to reconstruct and share the story in their own words with others.
*A summary is when a listener recalls only the main events of the story to present the highlights of a story to others.

2. Record on the board or on chart paper some of the applications for summary writing (for example, book reviews, sports highlights,literature circles, projects, etc.)

3. As a group, list and record the elements of a good summary. A good summary should include information on the A) main events, B) main characters, C) story’s conflict, D) ending (if desired by instructor) or moral (if present).

4. Distribute the selected short story and have students read the story in pairs or small groups.

5. Read aloud the following Activity Challenge Box to the group.

Challenge: Determine the difference between the details and main events of a story to construct a “summary” from Toobeez.
Goal: Reduce the 20-card retelling to a 6-8 card summary.

6. As you distribute the cards, read them aloud to review the story to maximize student comprehension.Have students tape the index card onto one tube of the tower (work from the top down to the bottom).

7. Once all the cards are attached, have students determine what the tower represents: A summary or a retelling? (Answer: a retelling).

8. Define the term concise and succinct with students. Inform students they are now the “Concise Committee,” and their job is to determine which pieces of information will construct the Toobeez summary.

9. Review the elements of a good summary before continuing.

10. Going through the cards one at a time, have students give a “thumbs up” for information to stay, “thumbs down” for a detail to leave out, or a “wavy thumb” if they want to leave the card “on hold” and make a decision toward the end.

Teacher Note: Cards may also be combined to make one sentence.

11. Cards that are to be omitted should remain on the original tower.

12. Cards that have been selected to construct the summary are removed from the tower and attached to a new Toobeez tube. With each of these “summary” tubes, students will build a new structure to represent the summary (students can determine this shape).

13. Once the retelling has been trimmed to represent a good summary, have students read through the remaining cards on the new Toobeez summary structure as a group.

14. After the activity, move to the “Activity Discussion and Processing” section of the activity.

Succinct Summaries2
Succinct Summaries3
Remove cards from tall “retelling” tower to build a smaller “summary” structure.


  • In the class discussion, students supported why a piece of information was included in or omitted from the summary (using the summary characteristics listed at the start of class to support their answers)
  • Teacher observed good student participation

Activity Discussion and Processing

To close the lesson, end with a group discussion about what was learned during the activity. Circle up the group, and work through the following questions. If possible, record the group’s responses on flip chart paper so all comments are displayed.

  • What should be included in a well-written summary?
  • What is the difference between the original Toobeez tower structure and the new structure you built?
  • How did you help the group work together to build the structures?
  • How did this activity help you to determine which events to include in your summary?
  • Why do you think summaries are an important element in
    communicating with others?
  • How did this activity help you to communicate better with others?

Activity Variations

1. Integrated instruction.

Use this lesson with the current classroom reading book(s) to enhance reading comprehension. You can also use a picture book, a section from a content area textbook, a chapter from the classroom’s read aloud, etc.

2. Avoid comprehension problems.

With challenged readers, use a popular story with which students are familiar (for example, The Wizard of Oz) to ensure difficulties with reading do not interfere with the objective of creating a good summary.

3. Extension/Follow-up.

Working off the smaller “summary” structure (if time permits or on the following day), students can work in pairs to use the structure and the attached index cards to write out a paragraph summary for the story.

Author of the Toobeez Language Arts Activity Workbook and Independent Writing Consultant. Anderson Editorial Services is a company dedicated to providing writing services for creative, informational and educational writing. Whether developing, editing, formatting or proofreading, Anderson Editorial is committed to producing the highest quality of writing.
All Activities of Victoria Anderson, M.Ed.

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