Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Literary Essays, Summaries, and Retellings


The quest to write our first literary essay continued today as we revisited the work we did on Friday about Sistine and Rob.  I was still a little miffed about the somewhat simplistic view of Sistine, but I knew I had to proceed.  Our goal today?  To write an introduction and select our three pieces of evidence to support our thesis statement.  What I realized over the weekend was that I had not really done a good enough job working with them on summarizing. . . and the model we are using for the essay  has the introduction being a brief summary and then a thesis statement.  My little light bulb went on after reading article after article and rubric after rubric trying to clear up for myself the difference between a summary and a retelling.  Apparently after 20 years in the classroom, it finally occurred to me that I really use the terms interchangeably.  Not so much.

So . . . I put the literary essay on hold  (Can I EVER get a project done in the time frame I planned on? EVER?) to dig in a little deeper to the idea of summarizing rather than retelling.

I read them a chapter of Flutter and asked them to retell it to me . . . starting at the beginning.  It was a pretty exciting chapter, and the students had no problem retelling it using lots of "and then . . . " and "after that . . . " type transitions.  I told them that they did a great job RETELLING, and that retelling can really help show that they know how the chapter (or any text) unfolds.

I then asked them to go back to their desk groups and try to figure out how to "summarize" the chapter in only 2 or 3 sentences.  They gasped--it seemed impossible!  But they DID it!  I was so impressed with some of their summaries!  

The next step, then, was to try to transfer this process to our Tiger Rising essays...I pulled this up on the Smartboard:

We then considered our introductions in terms of an equation:


I told them to use the hints on the board and our equation to work with their team to write several quality introductions.  They got to work immediately, and I was seriously floored by some of the insightful ideas they got down on paper.  I asked each group to select one to share and I recorded them on the Smartboard.  After sharing, lots of students liked different elements they saw, so I sent them back to work on their own to try one last time.  I reminded them of the equation and left all the samples up for them to "use".  Everyone wrote an introduction that they loved, and they are ready for the next steps--proving our thesis statement!

Not sure if I mentioned this--the students eventually came to the realization that their thesis about Sistine wasn't strong enough.  Our new thesis?

The characters in The Tiger Rising learned that no matter what, you can overcome even the hardest of times.

Better, right?  I didn't even gloat.  Much.


  1. I really like how your students get to look at each other's work and then go back and revise their own work. What a great process. Thanks for sharing.

    Eclectic Educating

    1. Thanks, Amy! We have a LOT of work to do, but it's a start! I think we also need to remember that they are only 9 and 10 years old, right?

  2. we sometimes summarize a piece using only and exactly 10 words...that is fun to try with the kids and they really have to think about which words to use and the main idea more when they have limited words.

  3. Wow. This was really helpful. We just finished Literary Essays and I think there are things I must tweak the next time around. Thanks :)

    1. me...there will be tweaking on my end too! Isn't that part of the fun of teaching? We can always get better! Thanks for checking things out on my blog! :)