To make a long story short…

Writing a good short story, summary or talk can be much harder than writing longer narratives. You need to have a good grasp of the language you are using, as well as having incisive and interesting ideas to share. You can easily turn summary writing and book discussion activities into fun games and language practice activities which will lead to a more complete summary writing preparation.

Let’s look at some of the most popular and entertaining summary and short story writing ideas.

1 Story fragments

Try this activity as a lead-in activity for story writing or reading sessions. It’s a good way to revise vocabulary, set the scene and activate your students’ background knowledge. Tell your students you would like to do a short quiz with them and they have to guess a story based on a few words and phrases. Finish your quiz with the story you would like to work with during that lesson. Here are some ideas.

  • little girl, woods, grandma, wolf
  • long golden hair, tower, garden
  • wolf, pigs
  • pretty girl, ugly monster, love
  • white rabbit, young girl, falling

Ask your students to write their own short summaries of their favourite stories and challenge each other in class.

You can also try the Story seeds activity in Writing Stories (by Andrew Wright and David A. Hill, in The Resourceful Teacher Series). Read about the activity in the post Storytelling Activities for Adult Learners on this Blog.

2 Six-word stories

We are all familiar with the classic six-word story ‘For sale: baby shoes, never worn’, often attributed to Hemingway as an example of his brevity in fiction writing. Known as flash fiction, this extremely brief and concise style gained popularity in the 1920s, though its origins can arguably be traced to back to fables and parables of Aesop and Panchatantra.

Challenge your students to write a summary of their favourite books in six words. They can also try to write their own stories. You can also tell them about Six-Word Memoirs, a project founded by the American online magazine, Smith Magazine.

3 Change the title

Have you ever thought that a book’s title doesn’t do it justice? A comedian, Dan Wilbur has started an online project called Better Book Titles. On his website he posts new titles for classic and contemporary novels. Browse his website and write a quiz for your students. Most of them will only work with young adults and adults. You can also ask your students to come up with their own titles. Do check the content before sharing it with your students as most of them work best with adult learners.

4 Facebook status summary and book recommendation

When you read something interesting, you often want to share it with your friends. The easiest way to do so is writing a Facebook or other social media platform status update. When you have read a text in class or your students have read a novel, ask them to think of a Facebook status in which they either summarise or recommend the text. They should write it in their own ‘Facebook style’.

5 Twitterature

You have a 140-character limit to write posts on Twitter, and this character restriction is a good base to for literary challenges. The first Twitter-based stories appeared in 2008, and they exist in various forms. You can write single tweets, but there are tweet series and relays. You can see examples of these on the Twitterature website. Show them to your students, and have Twitterature sessions with them. You can set up your own relay or series.

6 Visual book summaries

Visual summaries are another way to challenge your students to summarise a novel or a scene from a novel. They can  draw a doodle, an infographic or a story map.

Extra tips

If you are looking for something different from the usual ‘notes’ websites of classic literature, try Thug Notes, the YouTube channel and educational website with comic yet serious, engaging and informative reviews of classic literary works.

You can also try the ‘Book postcard‘ activity. It will activate your students imagination, help them reflect on a scene and practise the language of the book.

Do you have any summary activities which have worked for you? Share them with us!

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