Language and Literacy: Sum It Up

MariBeth Plankers, MS CCC‑SLP, ATP

Instructor <br>Bureau of Education & Research

Sum It Up is a self-assessment strategy that asks students to give a summary of what they have read, written, or shared through a narration about an event or experience. Learning how to summarize and condense information to key ideas and details helps students become more efficient speakers and writers.

Why would an educator use Sum It Up? It is a flexible strategy that may be used as a lesson in itself, a reflection at the end of a lesson or session, or as a generalization tool. I find that this strategy is beneficial for helping students in kindergarten through high school build comprehension and writing skills.

How to teach a student to sum it up:

  • Begin by sharing a short passage, photo, or line drawing.
  • Underline or note the main ideas as they read or examine.
  • Once the main ideas are identified, explain and discuss “summaries.”
  • Always provide an example (visual and or auditory) of what you want the student to do or create.
  • Discuss the main ideas.
  • Focus on three to five main ideas to build the summary.
  • Work on ordering the sentences (spoken and/or written), connecting them with transition words.

Direct Teaching Ideas for Sum It Up

Ticket Out the Door

This is a fun but very easy way to teach Sum It Up. Students state one thing that they have learned from the text, photo, or drawing and write this on a ticket they hand in. This may be done collaboratively or individually, as students depart from the room.

Ticket Out the Door may be modified for students who do not have the ability to directly speak or for those who struggle with generating a summary or developing an idea in a short amount of time. For these students, it can be helpful to provide a communication board featuring options to choose from.


Students are asked to draw a comic of the text or photo. When offered a limited number of panels, they will have to narrow the focus to decide what is most important to display in the comic.


Students are given a keyword. They must then write or state one main point for the lesson using each letter of the keyword.

Using Sum It Up in Lessons

Teaching students how to sum it up can be applied to the following lessons:

  • Learning vocabulary
  • Writing sentences
  • Determining sequential steps or directives
  • Reviewing a picture story or chapter book
  • Writing paragraphs
  • Storytelling (narrative language)
  • Preparing for a job interview
  • Making phone calls
  • Asking and answering relevant questions
  • Reporting emergency information

Sum It Up may be used as a carryover task with the following activities:

  • Reviewing for a test (spelling, details, facts)
  • Reviewing vocabulary
  • Preparing questions for a follow-up interview
  • Editing written language

A helpful tool when using Sum It Up with students from upper elementary to high school levels is a graphic organizer, which provides placeholders and prompts to the student during this process. Teachers can also add in some movement by having students form debriefing circles to share their summaries with one another.

In closing, I have found that Sum It Up has been a major motivator for ending lessons and therapy sessions. It also works well in remote learning. Keeping students engaged until the end of the session, especially during distance learning, is critical. Students see it on the schedule and know what will be expected at that time. 

That about sums it up!

About the Author

MariBeth Plankers is a Speech-Language Pathologist, Assistive Technology Professional. She is the former Director of the Regional Assistive Technology Center at Minnesota State University Moorhead (MSUM), a lending library for Assistive Technology. At MSUM Speech Language and Hearing Clinic MariBeth was a Clinical Supervisor of graduate student clinicians in the areas of augmentative alternative communication, autism spectrum disorder, reading and written language needs, and assistive technology.