Reading to Learn

The Chew: Using Books as Brain Food

Elizabeth McGee

RL Design

Rationale: As students develop as readers, they become more able to devote their reading energy to comprehension of a text, which helps them to read for learning and reach potentially limitless learning possibilities. Teacher’s can help facilitate the flourishing of reading to learn through scaffolding summarization, analysis, and synthesis of ideas. This involves understanding the main idea of a text, drawing out key details, and applying information to background knowledge. Summarization is the first step to being able to take more in-depth looks at a text. This lesson will focus on building foundational summarization strategies using these guidelines: identify the topic; note key details related to the main topic, and avoid noting information that is repetitive or irrelevant to the main point of the text.



  • class set of How Animals Eat by Pamela Hickman and Pat Stephens
  • teacher copy of How Animals Move by Pamela Hickman and Pat Stephens
  • blank paper and various blank graphic organizers
  • blank poster and thick, permanent marker or SmartBoard
  • writing utensils for students
  • dictionary




1. Say: “We’ve been growing a lot as readers and writers this year! That’s great because once you develop as a reader to the point that it’s becoming really easy for you to get words and ideas, you’re really ready to unlock the mysteries of books. Books can take you to distant places, interesting people, and adventurous times. They can tell you things about the world that you would probably not discover otherwise. Unlocking this is called “reading to learn.” Raise a righteous hand if you feel like you have learned something interesting from a book before. [Wait, and call on two or three friends to share.] That’s great that you’re learning things! And that’s natural to get information out of reading once you grow as a reader. But what if I told you that there is a key to going deeper with the journeys books can take you on? Imagine the possibilities!”


2. Say: “I’m going to read just a couple of pages from this book, How Animals Move by Pamela Hickman and Pat Stephens, and then I’ll show you how to use the new key, called summarization! That’s a big word. It just means that you get the main idea and key details. I’ll read and then show you what that looks like. [Read three or four page excerpt from text.] Man, there’s a lot of information to get from that! Except, I have a problem. I don’t know exactly what all of the vocabulary words meant, and I need to understand those meanings to really understand the parts I read. So, let’s go back and find the tricky words.”

Vocabulary words:

  • sprint
  • webbed
  • miles per hour



Vocabulary Practice: (follow this same process for each word)

-“Okay, so the first word I need to know the meaning of is sprint. I will look in my trusty dictionary to find the definition. ‘Run at full speed over a short distance.’ That’s what sprinting is. If I wanted to use it in a sentence, I could say, "The Olympic gold medalist can sprint faster than anyone else in the world;" or, "I practice short-distance sprinting in addition to long-distance running to help me play soccer better." Can anyone volunteer a sentence that includes sprint in some form? [Wait.] So, knowing that and looking back at our sentence, ‘The cheetah sprints to catch its prey;’ could I just as well say that the cheetah jumps on its prey? [Wait.] The answer is no because to sprint means to run really fast, like we saw in our definition. So you can see that it really helps me understand this important sentence to know the definition and how to use it in a sentence.”


3. Say: “Now that I know my new vocabulary words, I feel like I can proceed to organizing the information in this book into a summary. So, first I need the main topic. That’s easy to find because it’s usually the common theme throughout the text and is often part of the title of the book. I noticed that a common theme in the parts I read were that every page talked about how a different animal moves, so the theme is how animals move. I can verify that also by seeing that that’s actually the exact title of my book. [Write topic in center of web.]”

4. Say: “So, that’s my main idea. But there is more than that! Does it really tell you much about this book to just have this main idea written up on the poster? [No.] That’s where key details come in. Key details are the details that matter to the main idea and support it. For example, on a party invitation, the main idea is that there’s a party, and the key details are when and where they party is. So, what might some key details for How Animals Move be? Can you help me think of some details from what I read? [Wait and let friends help. Prompt all responders to refer to textual evidence for their answer (e.g. How do you know that from the text?). Finish filling out/drawing web graphic organizer as friends share applicable key details.]”

5. Say: “Did you notice anything about what we didn’t include in our summary organizer? Turn and talk to your partner and share something you noticed that we left out. [Wait. Call on one or two friends to share what their partner said.] The reason we left those parts and others out is that they aren’t key to understanding the big idea of the book. They’re cool details, but we don’t need them in a summary! So it’s always important in a summary to ask yourself, ‘Is this a key detail or just a random cool detail? Would I understand a summary that didn’t include this?’”


6. Pass out copies of How Animals Eat. Say: “Now it’s your turn to practice summarization with another book by Pamela Hickman called How Animals Eat. It’s very similar to the structure of How Animals Move, but of course the main idea and details will be different because it’s a different book. Have you ever wondered how different animals eat? Humans like us always eat with out mouths, unless something is wrong, and we usually find our food fairly easily at the grocery store. But there are variations even with humans. Sometimes we eat with our hands, sometimes chopsticks, sometimes a fork and knife or spoon. Humans also vary in where we get out food! Yes, not all meals are retrieved at the grocery store! Some people hunt for their food. Maybe some of your dads or moms hunt for deer, and you know what that's like. Sometimes people pick fruits and vegetables from nature instead. Imagine the possibilities with animals of all different habitats, shapes, and abilities! This book will unveil the mystery of how many of the earth's coolest animals eat."

7. Say: "As you read, not that there are several options for graphic organizers to help you organize your summary like I did on the poster. You can do what I did, which was drawing a web. I have a web drawn out for you to use. There’s also a form that labels each part of your summary like a list. And there’s blank paper in case you want to organize your summary in a different way. What matters is that you have the main idea, key details, and no unnecessary or repetitive information. I will give you about 10 minutes to read the book, but if you finish before then you’re welcome to start on your graphic organizer, and it’s also okay to take a little more than ten minutes, but I might ask you to skip finishing the book and use what you have read to do what you can on your organizer. This is just practice! Does anyone have any questions about reading for summarization before we start? [Wait and answer questions as needed.] Alright, ten minutes has started!”


Assessment: During independent practice, walk around and have short conferences with a couple of students. Provide guidance where it’s needed for the summarization graphic organizer and thinking through which pieces of information to include in the summary. Also, ask comprehension questions such as “Which animals did Pamela mention that were similar in how they eat?” or “Were there any animals that ate in a way that reminded you of another animal you know about?”

Collect completed graphic organizers and assess students’ understanding using this checklist:


__ avoided unnecessary or repetitive information

__ emphasized a main topic

__ main topic chosen was accurate

__ had 2+ key details

__ key details were supported in the text and relevant to the main topic



Hickman, Pamela. How Animals Eat. New York, NY: Kids Can Press, Ltd., 2007. Print.


Hickman, Pamela. How Animals Move. New York, NY: Kids Can Press, Ltd., 2007. Print.

Reading to Learn Lesson Design: “Boil it Down to Sum it Up” by Hope Roberts 

Original Image