ABC Summaries (Post-Reading)


Students will summarize the assigned content in exactly 26 sentences, which will begin with consecutive letters of the alphabet.

Keep in mind that sentences are sentences, with all the grammatical correctness that implies. 

Arguably the largest danger to the survival of the United States was the Civil War which took place from 1861 – 1865.

Because this conflict has become so iconic in the annals of American History, it is easy to forget the many ways in which its causes and course were often mixed and unclear to those experiencing it firsthand.

Causes of the war certainly include the different economies and diverging cultures of the North and the South, shifting political power culminating in the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860, the rhetoric of the abolition movement, and the ways in which westward expansion continually provoked tensions over the central debate of the day:  slavery...

You get the idea.

The rationale for ABC Summaries is the same as any other creative "take it apart and put it back together" assignment. These are surprising challenging to do well, especially if you hold to the insistence that while the sentences are alphabetized, they should read naturally enough that a person hearing them read aloud or seeing them writtten in paragraph form would not immediately notice the work was anything but a really good summary of the assigned content.

Throw in some half-sized poster board and a few bonus points for decoration, and you can plaster the hallway outside your room with these before parent-teacher night - and administrators LOVE this stuff. They never read more than the first few lines, but it makes their little "Really I'm An Instructional Leader!" loins tingle with pedagogical joy, and YOU'LL get the credit for that. (Not that we ever do anything in class just so it looks good for parents or administration. We're FAR too noble for such shenanigans. Those things just happen to be secondary benefits to this particular activity.)

I'm a big fan of requiring a rough draft of this assignment before moving to a larger, semi-decorated final version to be posted around the room, in the hallway, etc. These make good parent and admin mojo because while they can be aesthetically interesting, even a brief perusal makes it clear we are all about the content, baby. Plus, other adults don't usually read all the way through the last third or so when they tend to get pretty weird.

One teacher I work with varies this by randomly assigning the first letter used, or tying it to the students middle name, etc.  If my first sentence must begin with 'H,' for example, I work through to 'Z', move right into 'A', and finish with my 26th sentence starting with 'G'. I haven't done it this way, but I like the idea just to break things up.

Finally, I always clarify with students that they may NOT use random proper names or explitives to begin sentences:

Cindy knows that the Five Civilized Tribes were forced to move to Indian Territory in the 1830s. David says this trek became known as the Trail of Tears. Ethan's book shows that thousands died along the way. {etc.}


Crap, said freemen in the South who still had restricted rights. Darn it, this is America! Eek they'd shout as groups like the KKK used fear and terror to oppress them. Friggin' quit it said the North, or we'll send more troops!

Boo on both of those.

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