This is the second post in the series of Teacher Toolkit for Engagement. Today we look at using summarizing as a task for use in-class or online.

Our previous post looked at Passive Lectures and Engagement and as discussed, passive lectures do have their place. Passive lectures should be complemented with active-learning activities to promote student learning.

Let’s take a look at summarizing.

What is summarising?

When it comes to engaging students with content and learning content, consider a summarising activity. Ask students to present a summary of information to their class or tutorial group.

Fundamentally, summarising is where students condense and give a summary of what they feel they have learned during class. This is a brief statement of the students’ main learning points or takeaways.

Using summarising as an activity

How does this work? Students have to learn, think and plan their summary whether it is verbally for in-class delivery or more formal presentations. This activity in itself can be useful to facilitate learning.

When using summarizing, remember to build summarizing time into the session. The time is a factor that often gets overlooked. With time-restraints, it can lead to content being raced through.

Plan it out! Build summary time into your teaching plan. This is more beneficial from a learners’ viewpoint, compared to content that is delivered very quickly.

Students can reflect on all of the summaries. This is where the learning will happen.

What I have learned so far

Teachers could consider using the activity What I have learned so far. This activity can be used either in-class or online. Students can be divide into pairs (either in-class or via channels/breakout rooms). Make your instructions for the activity clear and add time limits to each step. Instructions help create expectations of how activities should be. For example, what to do and the time it should take.

The first task is for each individual student to summarize their learning of the lesson thus far. Summarize it in sixty seconds. This task can be written or verbal.

The second part, ask pairs of students over a few minutes to share their summary with each other. Compare results. Pairs of students may discover things they individually overlooked. Time limit 3 or 4 minutes.

Credit: Kevin Maillefer
Credit: Kevin Maillefer

There will be a number different summaries from student pairs. The results could/should be shared verbally with the whole group. This will lead to group discussion. If possible, every summary should be heard or at least additional points not already heard! This could be a 15-20 minute discussion.

As teachers, you will have provided an opportunity to engage students with content and ensure the total of summaries match with the content just covered. You are also helping students build up student/student bonds and support networks.

This is a nice feedback mechanism as well for the lecturer. The feedback received by the lecturer informs the lecturer how well students understood the content taught, and whether additional teaching is required in some areas.

Summarising as a revision aid

You can help students create revision notes using a summarizing activity.

Give learners one minute to write a summary of the lesson or subject. Alternatively, have learners summarise content by answering a specific question.

Questions might include:

  • How would you summarise today’s session to a friend?
  • What was the most surprising/shocking piece of information learned today?

This task can be time limited or word count limited to really make students think about their response. This might be a nice activity to finish up the session and it’s beneficial as it helps students with revision notes.

Credit: The Climate Reality Project
Credit: The Climate Reality Project
Encouraging other skills

The summarizing of content could be set as a task (graded or non-graded) to help use additional skills.

In today’s digital age, summary responses can be recorded as video or audio. This is a nice alternative to the written text. It also uses other skills in learning, i.e., planning, recording and editing skills.

If you set a task for students to record a summary (to be completed by the next teaching session), this allows students to plan their response, rehearse and practice. Other students can give feedback on the content AND delivery of the recording.

Credit: CoWomen
Credit: CoWomen

To add a little spice, why not theme recordings to be ‘advert-like’? Or, encourage learners to use other digital skills to emphasize key points in their summaries.

There are many digital tools availble, like Sway or Videoscribe, that can be used to highlight information visually, in a creative way. This allows students to record audio if they don’t yet feel comfortable recording themselves on video. And, students can plan the visuals for the recording.

By incorporating other tools into the summarizing activity, it becomes more creative and the use of additional skills happens on the periphery of teaching. It’s not just ‘stand and speak’.

It hones students’ skills:

  • Public speaking
  • Time management
  • Presentation skills
  • Digital design skills
  • Creating learning objects
To summarise

The summarising of content is an important skill to learn and use. This activity allows for information to be digested, thought about and reiterated in a structured and logical way. Thus, leading to learning, understanding and storage of newly created knowledge into long-term memory.

Tasks can be around 5 minutes in length for individual and paired summarizing. Results can also be used in class discussions to engage students in their learning.

And, additional skills can be learned if the summarizing task is scaled up, i.e., for assessment purposes.

Next time

On Friday, we look at content recall activities as another tool in the Teachers Toolkit for Engagement. Please do join us then to learn more and don’t forget to follow us on Twitter: @MDBSelearn.


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