Scaling Back to Essentials: Scaffolding Summarization With Fishbone Mapping

Kathleen Donovan-Snavely
Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania

Grade Band

Estimated Lesson Time
Three one-hour sessions

What's important and what's not? Students in grades six through eight explore this question in pairs and cooperative groups as they complete fishbone maps that highlight the main ideas and relevant details from a cause-effect text. The lesson includes explicit instruction on how to use repeated references as a strategy for determining important information in a text and how to generalize main ideas from related details. Modeling and guided practice prepare students to use the strategies independently. As a final exercise, students write summaries of a content area text.

From Theory to Practice
Friend, R. (2001). Teaching summarization as a content area reading strategy. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 44, 320-329.
  • Summarization, as an organizational study strategy, promotes “deep processing.” As students identify links to prior knowledge and connections to main ideas in text, they enhance comprehension and retention.

  • A summary has four defining features: (a) it is short; (b) it tells what is most important to the author; (c) it is written "in your own words;" and (d) it states the information "you need to study."

  • Teachers can promote student proficiency in summarization by providing direct instruction about two cues to text-based importance: repeated references in text structure and generalization from inferences.

  • Semantic maps make explicit the relationships among main ideas and supporting details, as well as the overarching generalization that frames a text.

Student Objectives
Students will
  • Apply the repeated reference cue strategy in cooperative learning groups to identify important information in a text

  • Derive generalizations by examining clusters of text details for commonalities

  • Synthesize their comprehension of an article by using the fishbone map graphic organizer to write summaries

  • Access an Internet site to further explore one or more of the main ideas from the text


Instructional Plan

1. Read the "Gorillas in Crisis" article, noting the cause-effect pattern and connections among the main ideas. If necessary, adapt the passage for the students you teach. Make copies of the article to distribute to students, as well as a transparency for the overhead projector.

2. Complete a fishbone map in advance to serve as practice for the process. (See sample fishbone map with responses.) Make copies of the fishbone map template to distribute to students, as well as a transparency for the overhead projector.

3. Mount a set of cooperative group role cards on card stock and insert them in an envelope for each group. Preteach role responsibilities in advance.

4. Bookmark the websites Great Apes & Other Primates and Gorilla Conservation Campaign on student computers, or print out and make copies of the articles found at these websites.

Instruction and Activities

Session 1

1. Articulate for students the purpose of the series of lessons:
  • To identify main ideas that are important to the author of a text by recognizing repeated references

  • To make connections among main ideas within a complex passage

    To identify main ideas and supporting details using a fishbone map graphic organizer

  • To use the fishbone map as the basis for writing a summary of the passage in their own words

  • To be able to apply these strategies to other content area texts to increase comprehension when they study
2. Distribute the "Gorillas in Crisis" article and fishbone map template. Have students preview the article by reading the introductory paragraph and the concluding paragraph aloud in small groups. The purpose of this activity is for students to predict what the author identifies as key issues about why gorillas are in crisis. After reading, ask students to share their predictions and list them on the board.

3. Use the overhead projector to display the fishbone map template. Introduce the fishbone map as a kind of semantic web that highlights relationships among ideas. Since the text structure of this article is cause-effect (i.e., why gorillas are in crisis), the fishbone map is an appropriate choice. Point out features of the fishbone map, showing how main ideas stem from the root cause, which in turn points to the effect.

4. Ask students, "How can we sum up the nature of the gorilla crisis? What will happen if threats to gorillas do not change?" List the students' responses, such as "gorillas on the brink of extinction," as the effect on the fishbone map. (Save the root cause, which requires generalization, for the second session.)

5. Ask students to silently skim the entire "Gorillas in Crisis" article.

6. Model with a think-aloud to analyze the first paragraph as follows:
  • "Listen to how I think aloud as we read this first paragraph. Based on the introductory paragraph, I expect it to address one aspect of the gorilla crisis."

  • Read the first paragraph aloud (or have a student read it aloud).

  • Think aloud: "I wonder what aspect of the gorilla crisis this paragraph addresses."

  • On a plain transparency and in your own words, jot down a list of details from the first paragraph, such as "Africans eat bush meat because it is a cheap source of protein; as the population grows, more gorillas are killed to feed more people." Students should take note of the details on their own copies as you write them on the overhead projector.

  • Help students identify the pattern of details that leads to the main idea. In this case, most of the sentences relate to how Africans kill gorillas for food, so that should go on the fishbone map as Main Idea 1. Ask students for suggestions on phrasing the main idea and the supporting details.

  • Omit any ideas that were interesting, but not essential to the main idea that Africans kill gorillas for food. Omissions include traveling to the nearby bush, the cost of ammunition and gun rental, and the raising of chickens and goats.

  • Emphasize the goal, which is to state the author's main idea succinctly using your own words.
7. Invite students to analyze the process that you modeled, and list the essential elements on the board as they are named:
  • Read the paragraph to get an overview

  • Reread the paragraph to identify key points

  • List key points briefly in your own words

  • Omit elaborative details for the fishbone map
Top this list with a title, such as "Criteria for Summarizing," since each part of the fishbone map is actually a mini-summary of each paragraph. Ask students if they have any questions about the fishbone map or the criteria for summarizing. Emphasize that the paragraph you modeled could have been mapped using different words, but the substance or ideas would have been the same.

8. Transition to partner work, using the think-share-pair strategy. Have pairs of students read paragraph 2 and analyze the paragraph using the process you just modeled and described. Circulate and assist students as they read, highlight details, and generalize to arrive at the main idea for the paragraph.

9. Have several pairs of students share their main ideas for paragraph 2. Record a representative phrase, such as "Africans eat bush meat as part of their tradition," on the overhead transparency of the fishbone map template as Main Idea 2.

10. Ask students, "What do paragraphs 1 and 2 have in common as they relate to the reasons for the gorilla crisis?" (Both focus on killing gorillas for food.) This is a repeated reference since the author names hunting as a problem in both paragraphs. Explain that when authors carefully convey a cause-effect relationship, they often repeat the main idea for emphasis so that the reader "hears" it again. A repeated reference signals that an idea is important to the author. The repeated idea will be important to include in a summary.

11. Point out that the fishbone map shows how the two paragraphs relate to the root cause and to each other, since they are joined at the "spine" of the fish.

12. Have students reflect in their learning journals on the following questions:
  • What did you learn about the reasons why gorillas are in crisis?

  • How can a fishbone map help you understand and clarify the main ideas and key points of a cause-effect text?
Session 2

1. Articulate for students the purpose of this session:
  • To identify the main ideas for paragraphs 3, 4, and 5 of the "Gorillas in Crisis" article

  • To note repeated references, as well as connections among the main ideas
2. Refer students to their fishbone maps, with Main Ideas 1 and 2 completed. Have students review what they learned and how they arrived at the main idea for each paragraph (e.g., by noting details, looking for patterns, and using their own words).

3. Divide the class into small groups of five. Distribute the cooperative group role cards, and discuss each of the roles. Assign a role to group members or have students select roles for themselves. (Members of groups smaller than five can assume multiple roles.) Respond to any questions that students may have.

4. Assign one of the remaining paragraphs (3, 4, or 5) to each of the groups to read and analyze. Frame this work session with a time limit—groups must be ready to present their main ideas to the whole class within 15 minutes.

5. Have the recorders for each group simultaneously list on the blackboard their respective main idea statements, identifying them by paragraph number for clarity during discussion.

6. Have the presenters explain their group's main idea and the rationale the group used by highlighting any repeated references from the text. Other group members may assist as desired. If multiple groups have read the same paragraph, have those groups present consecutively so that the class can compare and contrast the two responses. (See the sample fishbone map for possible responses for each paragraph.) Invite questions and comments from other groups.

7. As the presentation for each paragraph concludes, add Main Ideas 3, 4, and 5 to the overhead transparency of the fishbone map template. Students should also add these main ideas to their own fishbone maps.

8. Point out that there is room for two more main ideas regarding the gorilla crisis, which students will discover in the next session when they use websites to find additional information.

9. Conclude Session 2 by having students name ways in which each of the main ideas is connected to the other main ideas.

Session 3

1. Articulate for students the goals of the final session:
  • To work in cooperative groups to access a website to find additional information on the human threats to gorillas

  • To identify the main ideas 6 and 7 on their fishbone maps

  • To work with a partner to generate a summary of the threats to gorillas, based on their fishbone maps

  • To self-assess the summary
2. Have students gather in their same groups from Session 2. Assign one of the two websites bookmarked on the student computers to each group. Distribute the cooperative group role cards again, and present groups with their goal—to locate additional information online about how humans further endanger gorillas. Briefly review roles and have students in each group select their role cards.

3. Have the cooperative groups cluster by a shared computer as the leader accesses the assigned website. Members of the group should take turns reading the webpage aloud to each other, and work together to identify repeated references that point to an additional threat to gorillas. Circulate and assist the groups as needed.

4. Each group should generate a main idea that sums up the additional threat to gorillas. Possible responses include:
  • Great Apes & Other Primates: War in the gorilla habitat increases poaching and prevents conservation enforcement (third paragraph from the bottom: “Past/Present/Future”).

  • Gorilla Conservation Campaign: Mining activities in the gorilla habitat promote poaching (third paragraph from top).
5. Have the presenters from each group share their findings on the additional threats to gorillas, and then discuss these findings as a class. Record both main ideas on the overhead transparency of the fishbone map template, as students complete their individual maps.

6. Lead students to identify the root cause by asking: "Based on the main ideas listed, why are gorillas endangered?" (Responses include hunters, loggers, and Ebola fever.) "What do these causes have in common?" (People are involved in all cases.) Guide students to record in their own words a summary phrase for the root cause, such as "Humans endanger gorillas."

7. Direct each student to use the fishbone map to generate a detailed summary of the human threat to gorillas. The goal is to write a paragraph (in his or her own words) that will explain the gorilla crisis to a peer who does not know about the issue. Distribute the self-assessment rubric to serve as a guide for what students should include in their summaries.

Prior to writing, hold a brief class discussion to remind students of some strategies for writing a summary. Lead students to conclude that the effect and root cause can be combined into one topic sentence. Each of the main ideas listed on the fishbone map should also be included in the summary. However, it will be easier for the reader if similar ideas are clustered together (e.g., all of the references to hunting should be clustered).

8. Upon completion, have partners collaborate to complete the self-assessment rubric for each summary. Students can attach the completed rubrics to their summary paragraphs.

9. Have students reflect in their journals by responding to the following questions:
  • What did you learn about the gorilla crisis?

  • What strategies did you learn to help you understand and remember complex text?

  • In what ways do you think you could use these strategies outside a reading class?


Have students explore the following websites to learn more about current conservation efforts. Students can use a fishbone map to articulate how current practices will lead to gorilla extinction and then use the map as a basis for writing letters to national legislators or to the local newspaper.

Student Assessment/Reflections
Ongoing informal assessment includes recording anecdotal information on the students' participation in small groups, completing a holistic assessment of the students' learning journals, and evaluating the fishbone map summaries.

Student partners assess their summaries using the self-assessment rubric. Students also reflect on what they are learning periodically throughout the lesson by writing in their learning journals.

IRA/NCTE Standards

    1 - Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.

    3 - Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).

    7 - Students conduct research on issues and interests by generating ideas and questions, and by posing problems. They gather, evaluate, and synthesize data from a variety of sources (e.g., print and nonprint texts, artifacts, people) to communicate their discoveries in ways that suit their purpose and audience.

    12 - Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).

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