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Comparing Summaries on a Class Wiki

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Screenshot of class wiki page with comments
Image Credit: 

Kendall Gerdes

Brief Assignment Overview: 

This lesson asks students to individually summarize a short opinion article, then post their summaries as comments on a class wiki page. The lesson can be expanded with class discussion about the strengths of students' summaries, as well as the similarities and differences.

Type of Assignment: 
Pedagogical Goals - Writing: 
Pedagogical Goals - Digital Literacy: 
Additional Pedagogical Goals: 

This lesson aims to teach students to:

  • find a text's main argument and supporting claims
  • practice paraphrasing by condensing an argument
  • see how their own summary overlaps with their peers'
  • see how their own summary could be improved
  • see that there are many valid ways to summarize an argument
Required Materials: 
  • an article for students to summarize (I selected a short 3-page op-ed from the New York Times)
  • a class wiki or blog where students can post comments simultaneously on a single page (I use PBWorks)
  • computers for each student so they can compose simultaneously and post their summaries
Timeline for Optimal Use: 
Full Assignment Description: 

I began by allowing my students time to read the article in class, since it was a short piece--instructors may assign longer articles be read in advance of class. As students finished their reading, I asked them to summarize the article by identifying the main claim and any important supporting claims. Most composed in the comments box of the wiki page where they were asked to post their summaries--as did I. While the students were composing, I composed my own summary to discuss at the end of the lesson.

I allowed about fifteen minutes for summarizing. Then I asked everyone to post what they had, no matter how incomplete. Instructors could allow time here for students to read one another's summaries and compare. We then discussed the summaries as a class. Students are prepared for the discussion because they can draw on what they have already written. We had to agree on the main claim, and then we listed the supporting claims as we would in a brainstorm. Then I read students my own summary, and we talked about what was consonant in my summary with the rest of the class.

Suggestions for Instructor Preparation: 

Because this lesson will probably not take up a whole class period, I selected an article to summarize that accompanied another text: an interview with the author which transitioned our discussion from summary to ethos. Selecting useful material for students to summarize and making it readily available to students before class is a must.

Instructions For Students: 

(See assignment description above.)

Evaluation Suggestions: 

Because summary is a basic skill and this exercise comes early in the semester, I suggest evaluating this exercise only by whether it was completed. Both the lesson and the evaluation could be complexified by giving students more difficult material to summarize and asking them to revise after the class discussion.

Notes on Reception, Execution, etc.: 

(See assignment description above.)

Additional Resources: 
Course Description: 

I used this lesson in my introductory writing course, RHE 306 Rhetoric and Writing.

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