Academic Writing:

The post about summarising
Last week, I wrote my first post about academic writing. My focus then was on addressing plagiarism and helping learners develop strategies that will enable them to paraphrase information in order to integrate sources into their own writing and then cite it (you can read that post here). Another writing skill your students need to develop is summarising. In fact, in academic writing summarising information found in a source is as important as paraphrasing or reformulating. A summary that is not paraphrased/ reformulated well may lead to plagiarism, a paraphrase that is too long may lead to word count problems etc.

Picture credits: Illustrator unknown. Accessed online here

One step at a time
Here are some tips on how to get your students to summarise information they found in a source in order to use it to either synthesise information or integrate sources into their own writing (teaching tip: get them to paraphrase/reformulate first and then summarise). Begin with explaining what a summary is. Show them examples of good summaries and bad ones. Elicit their understanding of why one summary is good and why another is bad. Keep in mind that you also need to stress to your students that their summaries need to be paraphrases/reformulations of the original sources because if they aren’t, your students are still plagiarising.
Sentence frames:
So, now they understand what a summary is. You can move on to tasks that have sentence frames. Give your learners a text with its summary underneath it, but erase some of the sentences. At this initial stage your learners only have to fill in a few sentences that are missing.
Video viewing:
Who said you should only summarise texts? Why not start with something fun and something that is a bit easier than a dense academic tense? If you are teaching a general English class, you can choose whatever video you want. The sky is your limit. If you are teaching an EAP class, well, of course the sky is your limit as well. My suggestion is to start with something fun and easier to tackle and then show them a clip of a lecture. The goal is to get them to write a summary of something they have watched. this is challenging of course but fun.
Why use a video?:
  • Your learners can better comprehend because even if they have unknown words, they still have the visual to help them. 
  • It is fun : )
  • It caters different learning styles, engages different skills.
  • They do not have a text in front of them so it is supposedly harder to plagiarise.
Some disadvantages of using the video:
  • they may not know how to take notes and may end up just writing whatever they hear, making it difficult for them to write a coherent paragraph later on.
Jigsaw reading:
I guess you do jigsaw reading tasks with your students, so why not have a jigsaw reading task that will prompt a summary? So, how would you organise this? I suggest you do this as a pair work task. Give half a text to student A and the other half to student B. Each student reads their own text and makes notes of some key points. Once both students have read their texts and have made some notes, you take away the texts and just let them keep their notes. They then have to use their notes to tell each other what the text is about and write a short summary.
Summary challenge:
 You can start with summaries that are long paragraphs of say 150 words and move on to one sentence summaries! Add some drama, will you? Your learners need to actually be able to write one or two line summaries when they are integrating sources into their work, so start with something easier and move on to something harder.I would once again suggest writing a group summary, a pair summary and then each student works on their own summary. Give them a word challenge as well. Highlight numerous words they are not allowed to use in their paraphrased summaries.
Final thoughts
Teaching your learners how to paraphrase, reformulate and summarise are very important skills. Students require a lot of training before they can become successful writers. Approaching academic writing in a fun way,scaffolding your learners, mixing and matching tasks, doing group work and pair work aims to help them better their writing skills. Feel free to add any other summarising ideas in the comments section. I love getting feedback from you guys!!

Till next time……..


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