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Expect Students to Activate, Connect and Summarize Daily

The activate, connect, and summarize daily routine can help struggling adolescent readers acquire new content. It consists of asking students to activate (what did we learn yesterday?), connect (draw a connection between your life and the topic that we’ll discuss today), and summarize (give me a keyword or phrase that describes today’s lesson) in the classroom everyday.
It is the types of processing activities performed at acquisition that are important for learning and remembering. As these acquisition activities are changed, the ability to remember follows suit.
— Bransford (1979, p. 52)

The activate, connect, and summarize routine is essential for engaging struggling readers with content. Even if the reading assignments are difficult, participating in the completion of this routine every day with the whole class will help to keep them on track. When this routine is mastered and regularly used, students will always know where they have been, where they are going, why they are making the trip, and what they saw along the way.

Here’s a snapshot of the approach:

  • Activate. Expect students to remember what they learned yesterday and where and how they filed it in their long-term memory.
  • Connect. Expect students to make a connection with the learning objective for the day and their academic or personal lives.
  • Summarize. Expect students to write or share with one another a keyword or phrase that describes the essence of what has been taught and learned during a class period and then explain how they plan to remember it until tomorrow.

Here’s how one student responded to the Activating portion at the beginning of the class period. “Yesterday I learned what an inherited trait is—a physical characteristic I got from one of my parents. Since I was adopted from an orphanage in China, it’s easy for me to understand inherited traits. I don’t look anything like either of my adoptive parents because I don’t have any of their genes. I’ve stored this information in my brain under a file labeled: My Real Parents. I think about them often.”

Here’s how another student responded to the Connecting portion of the routine. “The objective for the day is to understand how DNA is responsible for inherited traits in living organisms. I’m really interested in this topic because I love the TV show, CSI. The investigators are always talking about DNA, and until we started this unit, I didn’t know much about it. After today’s lesson, the whole thing should make more sense, I hope.” Finally, here’s how a student responded to the Summarizing portion of the routine, just before the bell rang. “Today we learned about a diagram called a Punnett square and how to use it to predict the traits of any children we might have. The best part of the class was pairing up with somebody and figuring out what our kids would be like if we had any together. Fortunately, this was only an imaginary exercise.”

English teacher Dennis Szymkowiak explains how he and his colleagues help students to activate, connect, and summarize daily:

All of my colleagues [at Mundelein High School, IL] and I use entrance and exit slips on a daily basis to check for student understanding and to give us information to keep instruction at the right difficulty level.

Here’s the way the routine works in my English classroom: I use 3” x 5” note cards (or just basic paper cut down to that size) for students to respond to the prompts I give to them. When students have a reading assignment for homework, the prompt for an entrance slip might be to write down three questions they have as a result of their reading. Questions work with both fiction and nonfiction, and they are a good readiness activity for student discussion.

Quickly reading students’ questions before class gives me an immediate understanding of the nature and extent of individual and group comprehension. If all of the questions are of a literal nature, a lesson I’ve planned at a higher level will need to be modified. Likewise, if students’ questions reveal a deeper or more critical understanding, I can move the lesson to a higher level. (D. Szymkowiak, personal communication, April, 2005)


Tovani, 2000. I Read It, But I Don’t Get It: Comprehension Strategies for Adolescent Readers.
Zimmerman & Keene, 1997. Mosaic of Thought: Teaching Comprehension in a Reader’s Workshop.

Research Regarding The Power of Activating, Connecting, and Summarizing
Afflerbach, 1990a, 1990b; Bransford, 1983; Dole et al, 1991.

McEwan, E.K., 40 Ways to Support Struggling Readers in Content Classrooms. Grades 6-12, pp.151-152, copyright 2007 by Corwin Press. Reprinted by Permission of Corwin Press, Inc.