This article is excerpted from 25 Quick Formative Assessments for a Differentiated Classroom by Judith Dodge.
Research has shown that summarization yields some of the greatest leaps in comprehension and long-term retention of information (Wormeli, 2005). A WriteAbout is a concrete tool for summarization in which students use key vocabulary terms (the language of the content area) to synthesize their understanding in a paragraph as well as represent key ideas graphically. Combining both verbal-linguistic and spatial intelligences, this assessment tool is a favorite of many students.

Debra Steinroder models a WriteAbout for her fifth-grade students using a poster-size version of a WriteAbout.


  1. At the end of your lesson, provide a WriteAbout sheet (PDF) to students. (TIP: If you photocopy these pages on colored paper, they will be easy to find later when needed for studying.)
  2. Model for the class how you would complete a WriteAbout. Depending upon the grade of your students, you may need to model several times. Brainstorm key words and draw a picture to represent the main idea.
  3. Demonstrate how to write a summary using the key words on the list. Show students how you check off the terms as you use them and circle them in your writing.
  4. Let partners talk and complete a WriteAbout together.
  5. After a few practice opportunities with a partner, students should be ready to complete a WriteAbout on their own.
  6. Collect this assessment and provide feedback to students. Provide a simple check or check-plus to indicate the individual's level of mastery. Share with your class what a check or check-plus means. (A check means that you understand most of the terms and ideas, but still have to master others. Please notice any circles, question marks, or questions that I have written on your paper to help guide your next steps in learning.)
  7. Plan your instruction for the next day so that it fills any gaps in class understanding and/or includes flexible grouping for a follow-up tiered activity.


The WriteAbout is also a useful tool for homework. It provides an opportunity for students to synthesize the key understandings of the day's lesson. Keep in mind, however, that this assessment is designed for a single concept within a larger unit. Don't use it, for example, to see what students have learned about the Civil War. Use it to see what they have learned about the Underground Railroad, the advantages held by the North or South, or Reconstruction after the war.

Teachers have used the WriteAbout paragraphs successfully with their "Expert Groups" in a Jigsaw review activity (See Dodge, 2005 for a more detailed explanation about the Jigsaw Activity.) Briefly, students are assigned a Home Base Group and each is given a different subtopic, question, reading, or problem to complete. They then move into Expert Groups to work with others given the same assignment. There, each student completes his own WriteAbout. When he/she returns to the original Home Base Group, each Expert contributes his/her piece to the group's poster on the whole topic. This poster or product represents a group assessment. To check for individual understanding, follow up with several short-response questions.


Using a software program like Kid Pix or the free paint tool that comes with Windows, students can draw the pictures, symbols, or steps. Then, using the paint tool found in either program, they can write their paragraph.

Tips for Tiering

To support struggling learners: Duplicate the WriteAbout template with the vocabulary terms already printed on it. (Provide definitions, if you feel they are necessary)

Students use a WriteAbout to help them process the information they have been learning in a unit on animal adaptations. They check off the vocabulary terms and circle them in their writing as they use the key words in context.