The Big Idea
According to Emily Kissner, in her book, "Summarizing, Paraphrasing, and Retelling: Skills for Better Reading, Writing, and Test Taking," students need to fully understand "the big idea" when creating a book summary. They must "cut through extraneous details and describe the major themes and highlights," Kissner explains.
Understanding these ideas requires students to identify key elements that make up a book. Start by explaining the setting -- a fairly simple concept for children to understand -- as the time and place of a story. Teach students to familiarize themselves with the characters -- particularly the protagonist and the antagonist. The protagonist is the main character of a story, and the antagonist is the character or force in conflict with the protagonist. For example, in the story of "Little Red Riding Hood," the wolf is an easy choice for the antagonist. However, another deeper option for the antagonist could be Riding Hood's desire to go where she wants instead of following the directions of her mother.
Explain that the plot is the set of events that make up the very heart of a story. The plot has several elements that work together:
Exposition -- the first part of the plot during which characters, setting and basic complications are revealed
Inciting Incident -- the event that starts the story in motion and makes the rest of the story possible
Rising Action -- the main part of the story where the conflict arises and which moves the plot along
Climax -- the most exciting and intense part of the story for the protagonist, usually including a turning point
Falling Action -- the events that follow the climax and begin leading toward a resolution
Resolution -- the end of the story during which loose ends are tied up, remaining questions are answered and conflicts are resolved
Problems and Solutions
Understanding how to summarize a book involves more than knowing the characters and setting: Without conflict, books would be boring. Often referred to as problem/solution or conflict/resolution, complications are the problems that arise as the characters struggle to reach their goals. Within a story, conflict can be further divided into internal and external. Internal conflict takes place inside the character and often involves making a tough decision. External conflict takes place between a character and a force, such as nature, events or another character. A story can have more than one conflict, but the main conflict is central to the plot and is resolved by the end of the story. The resolution in a story happens when the story's complications are solved.
Putting It All Together
Learning story elements makes writing a summary easier for students. Explain to kids that they should not let these seemingly complex literary terms discourage them. Kids pick up and understand words easily and are engaged when adding new terms to their growing vocabulary. Make it a practice to identify the story elements -- regardless of the book or story -- when reading with children, talking about characters, setting, conflicts and resolutions. Have kids take notes while reading to offer structure when plots become complicated. The notes then serve as guide for writing an effective summary.