Summarizing News Articles


The New York Times is a particularly useful source for teaching summaries because it is so flexible. Students can pick articles based on their interests, or you can assign a specific theme for students to pursue. Whether you assign articles, allow students to select articles, or some combination of the two, it is great practice for students to read prose by excellent journalists. There are many successful variations on this assignment (see below), though you will doubtless have some of your own!

The basic format of this assignment is straightforward: read an article, write an MLA citation, write a bulleted outline, write a paragraph of summary. Those deceptively basic skills provide the foundation for considerable progress in student writing.  The assignment is very adaptable, but the core of it is remarkably beneficial for most other aspects of college writing.

Since good reading is the basis for most good academic writing, students must learn to connect the two. Composing
summaries based on newspaper articles allows students to practice both reading and writing. This simple assignment assignment breaks down the process of summary into manageable steps that, with repetition, become natural for students as they gain confidence in reading college level texts. and develop vital tools to carry forward into their other courses.

  • To practice close reading
  • To learn to write the main idea and main points of an article
  • To learn to write a paragraph of summary based on a bulleted outline of an article
  • To practice MLA citation
  • To learn to select articles
  • To strengthen newspaper reading skills
  • To strengthen reading and summarizing skills through repetition
  • To encourage students to learn about current events

    • This assignment has been the basis for most of the success in our NYT courses. Students gain incredible confidence in themselves as readers, writers, and academics as a result of learning and practicing these summaries.
    • At the end of our courses, students often comment that doing repeated summaries has enabled them to be become stronger readers. Repeatedly summarizing New York Times articles transfers into an improved ability to read textbooks for other classes.
    • Choosing how to use it! There are so many good possibilities that it can be overwhelming.  
    • Also, it is important to construct a system that balances the benefits of having students write multiple summaries per week with the limitations of teachers' ability to grade. Fortunately, t
      his assignment can be structured so that teachers do not have to review each summary carefully. Rather, they can be graded as a portfolio for a completion grade. This has the benefit of encouraging students to do more reading and writing without requiring a huge amount of grading for the instructor.
  • TIP:
    • Assign many summaries. The assignment is more successful when students have to practice writing summaries so that they get accustomed to reading carefully and distinguishing between main ideas and details. The repetition is invaluable. About 2 required summaries per class seems to work well.


Here are some possible steps for this assignment, but the way you teach it depends so heavily on how the summaries will relate to the rest of the course. The attached handout is quite detailed and straightforward in terms of how to complete the assignment.  

Step 1: Write an assigned summary as a class.
Choose an article from that day's paper. By working together to go through the steps of producing a good summary, you can model the close reading strategies, as well as review the format for the assignment.

Step 2: Write assigned summaries in groups.
Select one or two articles from that day's paper. Have students work in small groups to read over the article paragraph by paragraph and then discuss the main idea and bullet points. After they have agreed on those, have them produce full summaries on their own. Because there are a limited number of articles, you will be able to review these speedily and give feedback to the class as a whole or to individual students or even to groups.

Step 3: Write assigned summaries individually.
By now, students should have a good understanding of the format they need to follow. Assign a couple of choices of summaries and a have students turn them in. Give them feedback. By assigning the articles, you will be able to grade them much more effectively.

After teaching students to write the summaries, there are a range of possibilities for how to integrate them into the class.

  • Letters to the Editor: Requiring a Letter to the Editor along with the summary encourages students to place the ideas in their own words and compose a reasoned, critical response to each article. We have had success with having students do summaries and letters for each article.
  • Argumentative Research Paper: The summaries (and letters) can build to an argumentative research paper. Students can be required to pick a research topic or general focus and write summaries of related articles, culminating in their research paper. This has been incredibly successful in our experience. Students come to the research paper much more informed.

  • Allow students to pick articles that interest them: Students love choosing their own articles. Many of them are inexperienced at selecting reading material, and they find it both overwhelming and exciting to be able to pick their own. Plus, it fosters a love of independent reading of the newspaper.
  • Assign certain topics for students to follow: Rather than giving them free reign of the whole paper, select a topic or topics that you want them to read. Education is a reliable topic. Technology. Politics. Have them follow a specific country or even a particular reporter.
  • Allow students to choose articles for the class: Although we have not yet experimented with this, it could provide a good way to develop a class anthology in reverse. By having students select the reading material, it ensures that the class will be talking about the same ideas while still allowing some choice and input from the readers.
  • Choose the articles yourself: If you choose the articles, you can guide the class to discuss ideas that are relevant to what is happening in the class.
  • A mixture!: This is the best way to give students a rounded perspective of the newspaper.


There are two attachments below:
  1. Summary Assignment and Sample (for students using online newspaper)

  2. Summary Assignment and Sample (for students using paper copy of the newspaper)
Bridget Robin Pool,
May 10, 2011, 9:17 AM
Bridget Robin Pool,
May 10, 2011, 9:17 AM