One of the major problems that academic staff cite in relation to their students' writing is their increasing tendency to plagiarise. Using frequent short writing tasks around the idea of summary can be an excellent way to combat this problem, because it puts students in an active relation to new information on a a regular basis.
There are numerous ways in which writing tasks can be specifically designed to improve reading skills. Consider these variations on the idea of summary which show that it doesn't have to be an arid and uncritical task:
- Ask students to make a series of progressive summaries: 200 words, 100 words, 50 words, a sentence, a phrase.
- Put students together to produce a new (and perhaps shorter) version of a summary, using each person's first attempt.
- Ask students to summarise the same piece for a couple of different audiences/purposes: for example, a younger sibling, a peer asking for ideas, as a book review, as an abstract.
- Ask students to write two summaries - one for someone who broadly supports the views expressed, one for someone who is seeking to argue against them. How can the 'neutral' language of summary be made to indicate a position?
- Get students to produce a 'negative summary' by asking them to take a thick marker to a text and delete everything that is unnecessary. (The excuse could be that they are preparing the text for someone who is too busy to read the whole thing).
- Get students to do the negative summary above on a copy of their own written work. Then ask them to write an abstract based on this work.
- Give students a short article and ask them to expand it, (by adding in further evidence/examples or by developing the explanation/argument).