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Introduce: Summarizing Narrative Text with the fable the Tortoise and the Eagle

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Lesson Type: Introduce
Grade: K, 1, 2, 3
Group Size: Whole class or small group
Length: 30 minutes

What to Do:
Materials Needed:
The Tortoise and the Eagle fable (click here)
Flip chart paper and / or graphic organizer for summarizing – beginning, middle, end


Objective/Purpose of the lesson

  • The purpose of this lesson is to introduce students to the comprehension strategy of summarizing the gist of a story.
  • Students need to know why they need to summarize: It is important to know the most important parts of the story, what happened in the beginning, middle, and end. When someone asks you about a story, he/she wants to know the most important parts, not everything about the story. Tell students that a summary helps us remember the most important parts of the story and to be able to talk and write about them in the future.
  • Students need to know how to summarize; when reading a story, they need to be able to tell in one or two sentences the most important thing that happened in the beginning, middle, and end of the story.
  • Students need to know that whenever they are reading a narrative, they should be thinking about the gist of the story.
  • Using a think-aloud the teacher will be modeling this strategy.

Helpful Teaching Tips for this Lesson

  • Read aloud this story the first time without interruption. Let children enjoy the tale and encourage them to think about what it means to be kind, greedy, and selfish.
  • When reading the story the second time, pause to highlight the important parts of the beginning, middle, and end of the fable. Engage students in some discussion about what is happening.
  • Model for students how to summarize this story. The script for the think aloud is part of this lesson plan. It is important to explicitly explain the what, how, when, and why for a strategy.
  • Fables are a good story choice for this strategy.
  • Plan on teaching students to summarize for many weeks.


Think-aloud script – introduction of strategy

  • Today we are going to learn how to summarize the gist of the story. This is a comprehension strategy that will help us to understand and share the most important parts about a story. We want to be able to tell others about what happened in the beginning, middle, and end of the fable, The Tortoise and the Eagle.
  • Before reading the story the second time, tell students:
I am going to be thinking about what is happening in the beginning, middle, and end of the story. I want to remember these points in order to summarize the gist of this story after reading.
  • Talk about how you are summarizing the fable just read. Tell students what you are thinking and then write your summary for them to see:
When I summarize I think about the beginning of the story. In one or two sentences I want to say what happened in the beginning; telling about the main characters, setting, and problem. For this fable I would summarize the beginning by saying: The tortoise always shared his home and food with the greedy eagle. One day tortoise’s friend, Frog, told him that the eagle was making fun of him and would never share his own food with the tortoise. (Note: I have told you who the characters are, the setting, and the problem for this story.)

These sentences can be written on a flip chart or graphic organizer.

Next, I move to the middle of the story and tell about the important things happening. In one or two sentences, I want to tell what is going on with the problem of the story: The tortoise planned to trick the eagle into taking him to his home up in the trees. He climbed into a pumpkin and had his wife give it to the eagle who brought home.
I want to end my summary with a sentence telling about the theme of the story. I ask myself what is the author’s message or theme and then tell a sentence describing this theme. In this fable I learned that a selfish and greedy friend is no friend at all.
  • It is also important to talk about the theme or author’s message. Find time in small groups for students to respond in conversation or writing to some high level questions about the story.
  • What does it mean to be selfish or greedy?
  • Describe a time when you or a friend acted selfishly.
  • Who do you want as a friend in this story, and why: Tortoise, Frog, or Eagle?
  • How would you describe a good friend?
  • Eagle takes advantage of tortoise. What does that mean and has something like that ever happened to you? Talk with a partner.
  • It is important for students to practice summarizing the gist of the story. In small groups, have students write a summary on new stories. Provide graphic organizers and support as needed.


Students write and share their summaries in small groups.


Ask students why it is important to summarize the gist of a story; how and when they will use this particular comprehension strategy.

Possible next steps or extensions to this lesson

  • Continue to have children summarize the gist of story when reading narrative texts. Determine if this strategy should be modeled again; or what level of support is needed from you.
  • Have students compare summaries; have them identify strong and weak summaries and tell why.
  • Provide graphic organizers to help students organize their thoughts before writing a summary.

Professional learning community activity

  • Summarizing is a strategy that will need to be taught for an extended period of time. Reflect on your instruction and its impact on students’ use of this strategy. Bring your insights and questions to share with colleagues.
  • Read and discuss relevant research articles on strategy instruction with colleagues.
  • Discuss how this strategy would be taught from grade to grade. What expectations do you have for a Kindergartener vs. a third grader?
  • Videotape your think-aloud. Choose parts to share with colleagues in
  • Share student work, discuss and evaluate the work, determining next steps for yourself and students.

Research that Supports this Lesson

Baumann, J.F., &Bergeron, B.S. (1993). Story map instruction using childern’s literature: Effects on first graders comprehension of central narrative elements. Journal of Reading Behavior, 25(4), 407-437.

Nolte, R. Y., & Singer, H. (1985). Active comprehension: Teaching a process of reading comprehension and its effects on reading achievement. Reading Teacher, 39(1), 24-31.

Pressley, M. (2002). Reading Instruction that works: The case for balanced teaching (2nd Edition). New York: Guilford.

Pressley, M., Woloshyn, V. & Associates (1995). Cognitive strategy instruction that really improves children’s academic performance (2nd Edition). Cambridge, MA: Brookline.

Stahl, K. A. (2004) Proof, practice, and promise: Comprehension strategy instruction in the primary grades. The Reading Teacher, 57, 598-609.

Taylor, B. M., & Frye, B. J. (1992). Comprehension strategy instruction in the intermediate grades. Reading Research and Instruction, 32(1), 39-48.

This lesson was created by:
Minnesota Center for Reading Research
Patti Lenhardt
Barbara M. Taylor