Spice Up Your Novel Study, Part Two: Six Word Summaries


Six Word Summaries 2Earlier this school year, I started doing something in my classroom that has forever changed how I assess my students’ understanding of the novel we use for our read aloud. This activity is easy to implement, requires just an index card, and allows your students to showcase their creativity. It’s the six word summary, and it is amazing!

What is a Six Word Summary?

The six word summary is exactly what it sounds like. You write a summary of a book in exactly six words: no more, no less. If done right, six word summaries accurately convey the plot and deeper themes of a text, and pique the viewer’s curiosity about the book.

Our second round of Six Word summaries, posted in the hallway for the rest of the school to enjoy!

Why Should You Use a Six Word Summary in Your Class?

After doing this activity twice with my students, I am convinced that is the perfect alternative assessment for students to complete after finishing a chapter book read aloud.

Why should you give this a try with your students?

  • Six word summaries are a creative alternative to a quiz or test on the book, and they can supplement cumulative projects that you may have your students do after finishing a novel.
  • They are quick (my class of 27 was able to finish in about 20 minutes) and the perfect activity for any awkward amounts of time that you may find on your hands.
  • They’re fun! Students enjoyed coming up with the phrases and helping each other take their original ideas and make them fit into exactly six words. It’s also a great way to get students to practice rewording their sentences without them even realizing it.
  • They make a great display for your classroom or the hallway. You can show the rest of the school what you’ve been reading, and showcase how many different ways your students came up with to summarize the same text.
Our first round of Six Word Summaries. My favorite type of student work is the type that doesn’t look the same!

How I Use Six Word Summaries

I was first exposed to the concept of six word summaries by a photo I saw on @elaeveryday‘s Instagram feed. She had her students write a book review in exactly six words, and they were posted in the classroom library for their peers to see. When I saw the clever phrases that the students were able to come up with, I knew I had to figure out a way to use this in my own classroom!

I got my chance when we finished our first class novel, Zane and the Hurricane. My students hadn’t yet started their novel project, and we wouldn’t be starting our next novel until the following day, so I went ahead and tried it out. I told my students that I had a challenge for them: to summarize the book in exactly six words. I showed them an example I had made for Harry Potter and they were instantly hooked. I gave them about 15 minutes to come up with their phrases, and decorate an index card with the phrase and an image that represented it. It was a fun way to recap what happened in the novel, and it made for an engaging bulletin board display! Students loved reading what phrases their classmates had come up with.

The spelling isn’t perfect, but the message is!

Fast forward a few weeks, and we were finishing up our second novel, A Long Walk to Water. I knew that I wanted to use six word summaries again, but I wanted to up the rigor a bit since my students had already been exposed to the summary format. This time, I had them come up with a phrase and decorate a card, and on the back, they had to write at least three sentences explaining their phrase and how it connected to the events and characters in the book. This simple writing addition helped students extend their learning, and helped me better assess how deeply different students were able to think about the text.

This one might be my all time favorite. I mean, come on! This card was simple but really got at the deeper themes in the text.
This student used a lot of pictures to supplement her phrase and her explanation on the back.

We are currently just one day away from finishing our third novel, The Crossover, and I’m planning to use six word summaries again with my students. This time, I’m going to extend another challenge: to write their six words in the form of a poem, since The Crossover is a novel in verse. I can’t wait to see how they turn out!

If you’ve never tried out six word summaries before, I highly encourage you to take the plunge. Your students will blow you away with what they are able to come up with!

P.S. If you haven’t read my first installment in this series about novel studies, be sure to check it out here!


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