Using Writing to Support Critical Reading and Thinking

Lesson Plan to Support Critical Reading and Thinking: Previewing and Summarizing an Article

This lesson guides students through the steps of previewing and summarizing texts, particularly articles from journals, newspapers, or other similar sources. These summaries may then be the basis of class discussion or as part of a larger research paper. An interactive tutorial that generally follows this lesson plan and uses an article excerpted from the New York Times can be found here.

Grade Level



This lesson plan may be adapted to any discipline in which reading complex articles from either mainstream or academic media is required. The model lesson provided is from sociology, specifically from Introduction to Sociology.


Depending on the speed of the reader and the length of the article assigned, this lesson can range between 45 minutes to an hour and a half. The model lesson, with an academic article that is just over five pages long, would likely take a student between 60 and 75 minutes.

To encourage students to use previewing techniques
To gain skills in reading and understanding complex texts
To practice short, low stakes writing
To practice peer-review of other students’ work

Students will be able to
Identify main ideas of texts
Read and understand complex texts with greater ease
Write a short paragraph

Relatively short and accessible article, preferably from an academic source, that falls within the discipline of the course.
A page with just the titles, subtitles and section headings, if applicable
A page with just the first sentences extracted from the article.
Two or three Blackboard assignments. If the article assigned has subtitles and headings, then you will need three assignments; if not, just two will suffice.
Blackboard discussion board thread.

For Blackboard assignment number one, show students just the title, subtitles and headings of the article, if applicable. If the article doesn’t have any subtitles or headings, skip to step two. In the assignment box, ask students to write one or two sentences about what they think the article is about.
For Blackboard assignment number two, show the students the titles, subtitles, headings and first sentences of each paragraph, in order of appearance. Some articles have multiple short paragraphs, so it is fine to leave out some that may be redundant in order to have a manageable number for students to read. In the assignment box, ask students to write one or two sentences about what they think the main idea of the article is. If also doing assignment one, ask them to write a sentence to assess if their thinking about what the main idea might be has changed.
For the final Blackboard assignment, give students the entire article. By withholding access to the entire article until completion of the first two, students are required to go through each step of previewing. In the assignment box, ask students to write two or three sentences which give the “gist” of the article.
Now that the students have the entire article, have them compose paragraph summaries of the main ideas of the article and post the summaries to a Blackboard discussion board thread. Require students to give feedback on the accuracy and composition of at least one other student’s summary.

Click here for a model assignment based on this lesson plan.

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