ynthesize eaning

trategy  esson                          

developed and designed by Susan Moran



Synthesize Meaning:

Synthesizing is a more complex strategy as it involves taking stock of meaning while reading in order to achieve new insight. Students take stock of meaning while they read and use it to help their thinking evolve, which may lead to new insight, or sometimes not, but by stopping and thinking, students will enhance understanding in the process.

Students use critical thinking skills to make meaning of text, and understand the key ideas of text. They should stop and think often during their reading to see if the text makes sense.

Proficient readers are adept at synthesizing. The most basic concepts of the synthesizing strategy are summarizing and retelling.  The higher concepts of synthesis are; determining importance, forming opinions, and/or changing perspectives. Once students practice all aspects of synthesis, they can make evaluations, construct generalizations, and draw conclusions from a text.

Strategy One: Retelling

Synthesis is the realization that "Aha! I get it!" which allows readers to establish their take on what the text means to them. Retelling is a basic part of synthesizing meaning. In order to retell events in sequence forces the reader to personalize and connect with the story in new ways. They must reread several times to get this right. Allow time for this, but stress they do not memorize, rather they retell using their own words.

Ask students to retell part of the short story below. [All The Years of Her Life].

Most students find retelling to be a difficult process, and instructional activities which guide students in extracting core concepts and information will improve their ability to pare a text down to a meaningful essence.  Try one or more of the following.

bullet Ask students to list what main details are key to understanding the themes from the short story by Morley Callaghan, "All the Years of Her life
bullet When a list has been created on large chart paper, have students further reduce the list to a few key items as a prelude for retelling the story. It is these key ideas they must keep in their minds in order to retell a story well.
bullet Have students jot notes down about the themes in the piece they have read. What issues came up in the book and how or why are they important in order to be able to retell the story with passion and understanding.
bullet Have students fill in a Somebody Wanted But So Sheet  to cement character motivation into their minds in order to do a good job of retelling.
bullet After the two activities above have pairs of students sit and retell the story. It isn't necessary that both partners do the retelling, if they are uncomfortable. Perhaps the partner will choose a simpler story to retell.
bullet Debbie Miller in her book, Reading With Meaning: Teaching Comprehension in the Primary Grades.  gives this advice, "Tell what's important... in a way that makes sense... without telling too much."

Strategy Two: Summarizing- Finding the main idea

A summarization strategy: GIST  (Cunningham, 1982) - The GIST of something is the main idea.  Sometimes we donít need to remember all the details but read just to get the key point of the material.

Each member of the group [4 max]  will write a summary of each section [divided into four]This summary cannot exceed 20 words. 



A group of 4 students- Distribute this article  - On Cyber Bullies- two per group.  This article was taken from IParenting Site. View


Distribute one large sheet of chart paper. Ask the group to first divide it into four large squares, Writing Section One, Section Two, Section Three and Section Four in the squares.


After reading each section, one student will tell the note taker a 20 word summary [to give the gist] of what he/she read. [perhaps the groups should first assign the sections before they read.


Now, [take turns]  reading additional sections of text (either orally or silently). Information from each section must be written on the chart, under the Section titles.


It is possible to read a third section and condense the summary one more time.


 This idea was adapted from pp 130-131, Developing Readers and Writers in the Content Areas k-12, Third Edition, (Moore, Moore, Cunningham, and Cunningham, 1998)


Strategy Three: Determine Importance, examine evidence to Form Opinions and/or Change Perspectives

Overview:  Three to four Students will investigate the strategies of what details are the most important in order to understand the story, they will form opinions about the main character and explain how they changed their minds about the character by the end of the reading. This story is a great one to use, because of its focus and content.  The teacher will hand out this short story: The Street That Got Mislaid, by Patrick Waddington (1912-1973)

Steps to follow


Students will use a Synthesizing Chart  before during and after  the reading.


Students will first read the story silently. They should then reread  the story orally, taking turns and helping each other fill in the chart.


Students then decide on a recorder for their discussion. They must write down a list of the details they needed to understand the events in the story so that the story made sense.


Together students will determine what characteristic traits Marc Girodin demonstrated at the beginning of the story and what trait or traits changed by the end of the story.


Students will give their individual opinions on what they think Marc did at the end of the story. They should give evidence from the story to prove their point.


After the discussion they should ask; " Did anyone form a new opinion about Marc?" They should take turns answering.


The teacher will then hold a 'wrap-up' session and allow groups to share what key details were most important to understanding this story.


The teacher may review the qualities of good readers and discuss which ones applied to the reading of this story.


Lessons from LT in Annapolis Valley

Cornell Note-Taking System

A graphic organizer used to help students organize their thoughts when recording and summarizing notes.

Entrance and Exit Slips

A graphic organizer used to synthesize students knowledge from a current or previous class.

Finding the Main Idea A graphic organizer to help students  put the main idea in perspective of story characters and events.
Venn Diagram A graphic organizer that allows students to record the similarities and differences of two concepts.