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Synthesizing. Putting the Pieces Together. What Exactly Is Synthesizing?. “Synthesis is about organizing the different pieces to create a beautiful mosaic, a meaning, a beauty, greater than the sum of each shiny piece.” Ellin Keene.

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Putting the Pieces Together


“Synthesis is about organizing the different pieces to create a beautiful mosaic, a meaning, a beauty, greater than the sum of each shiny piece.” Ellin Keene


“Synthesis is a matter of seeing how the details fit together to draw a conclusion, how the details solve a mystery, or how they bring characters (and readers) to a new understanding. Synthesis involves an “aha” moment,when, all of a sudden, everything becomes clear.” Nancy Boyles


“Synthesizing is like putting a puzzle together. You have to sort out your thinking and put it in the right place.” Clay

synthesis is like throwing a rock into a pond
“Synthesis is like throwing a rock into a pond:

first there’s the splash, and then the water ripples out, making little waves that get bigger and bigger.”

Ellin Keene

“Synthesizing is like baking a cake—all the different parts mixed together become a whole new thing.”David Harris, Strategies That Work

“In order to construct any kind of meaning in our literacy learning and our life learning, we must find ways to cull and prune the details with which we are bombarded. We must reorganize and create our own explanations for what we are learning, our own definitions of our lives at any particular juncture.”Ellin Keene

we teach the children to take what they read and
We teach the children to take what they read and…
  • Look for important issues, themes, and ideas
  • Ask questions
  • Create images, relate what they read to prior knowledge
  • Draw conclusions
  • Make judgments
  • Predict

Read the excerpt from The Cay that is found on the overhead.

  • Record your thoughts on paper.
  • Read the next part and record your thoughts now.
  • Read the last part and record your final thoughts.
  • How did your thinking change as you read?
  • What strategies did you use to understand the story?

Teaching synthesis is a challenge. It requires more think-aloud modeling on the teacher’s part, and more conferences focused on helping children think aloud than other comprehension strategies. Ellin Keene


2. Begin a study on synthesis by helping students to see how readers monitor overall meaning, important concepts, and themes as they read, understanding that their thinking evolves in the process.


Your goal is to get the reader engaged.

3. As you read, model stopping now and then to consider what is important to remember. Distinguish between facts that are interesting and those that are important.

4 help students to learn to retell the most important parts of a story

4. Help students to learn to retell the most important parts of a story.

Tell what’s important

in a way that makes sense,

without telling too much.

Gradually release responsibility …

Stop now and then to ask the students to get with partners to synthesize the text so far, then collaborate and chart the students’ thoughts.
  • Ask students to read independently for five or ten minutes, then stop and find a partner and retell in their own words.
  • Ask students who are reading the same text to synthesize it when they finish, then get together and compare thinking.

Debbie Miller


5. Have students create a simple summary. In fiction this might be meeting the characters, figuring out where the story took place, and determining the plot.

synopsizing vs summarizing

Synopsizing vs. Summarizing

Don’t let students become victims of the “and then he…” syndrome!

Students need to understand that summarizing is a strategy that allows us to categorize and classify the information gathered as readers, sorting out significant ideas, events, and other pieces of information.

When reading a long piece, the reader needs to pause and regroup every so often, making notes as necessary.

summarizing vs synthesizing
Summarizing vs. Synthesizing
  • Summarizing is identifying key points and organizing thoughts, a listing of the parts. Summarizing usually occurs at the end.
  • Synthesizing is the creation of a whole. It goes on throughout the process of reading—not just at the end. It is bringing together different ideas and facts and weaving them together into a tapestry, something much larger than all the threads.

Ellin Keene


“Summarizing is part of synthesis. You can’t synthesize if you don’t know how to summarize. Summarizing is the act of briefly presenting the main point. When teaching summary, teachers should encourage readers to retell information by including important ideas but not telling too much.” Stephanie Harvey

6 have students capitalize on opportunities to share recommend and criticize books they have read

6. Have students capitalize on opportunities to share, recommend, and criticize books they have read.

7 have students extend their synthesis of the literal meaning of a text to the inferential level
7. Have students extend their synthesis of the literal meaning of a text to the inferential level.

Clues Along the Way

  • The teacher should provide opportunities for the students to stop at certain points in the reading to write down their thoughts.
  • Fables are great texts to use when beginning this process.

Consider having students bring in a current article each week. Ask the them to read the article, tape it to a notebook page, and write a brief synthesis that includes their own take on the article.Stephanie Harvey, Nonfiction Matters

the process of synthesizing occurs during reading when proficient readers

The process of synthesizing occurs during reading when proficient readers…

monitor the overall meaning, important concepts and themes in the text, and are aware of text elements.

are aware of text elements and patterns in fiction and nonfiction, helping them predict and understand the overall meanings or themes.

also during reading proficient readers should
Also during reading, proficient readers should…
  • attend to character, setting, conflict, sequence of events, resolution, and theme in fiction, and text patterns such as description, chronological, cause and effect, comparison/contrast, and problem/solution in nonfiction. They use this knowledge to make overall decisions about the meaning of a text.
  • revise their cognitive syntheses as they read.
the process of synthesizing occurs after reading when proficient readers
The process of synthesizing occurs after reading when proficient readers…
  • use synthesis to share, recommend, and critically review books they have read.
  • purposefully use synthesis to better understand what they have read.
  • are able to express, through a variety of means, a synthesis of what they have read, including ideas and themes relevant to the overall meaning from the text.
how do we prompt the students as they try to get the pieces to fit

How do we prompt the students as they try to get the pieces to fit?

In just a few sentences, describe this text as if you are discussing it with someone who has never read it.

If you were explaining this story to a younger child, what would you say?

At what point did you say to yourself, “AHA, now I get it!”?

What strategies helped you to figure out the meaning of the text?

  • What do you think might be on a test about this reading?
  • Did this reading change or confirm what you thought about _______? Explain.
  • How did you go about figuring this out?
  • Imagine that you are giving a talk to your class about ________. Using information from the text, write two ideas you should use in this speech.
  • Can you show me a place in the text where your thinking changed?
  • Do you have some new ideas or information?
learning strategies
Learning Strategies
  • Written response to literature

- Charting thinking records

- Post-it notes

- Double entry journals

- Letters to other readers and writers

- Quick write

- Timelines

  • Oral responses

- Four way share

- Think-pair-share

- Book clubs

- Strategy study groups Keene, 2001





Author: Title:




Beyond the literal interpretation question:

Possible answers:


when readers put all of the pieces together they can
When readers put all of the pieces together, they can…
  • identify the essential story line and ask, “What does it all mean to me?”.
  • generate questions, apply background knowledge, and discuss it with others.

Through the process of synthesizing, their thinking deepens and their understanding grows.


You know that students have mastered synthesizing when,just as they manipulate hundreds of puzzle pieces to form a new picture, they can arrange fragments of information until they see a new pattern take shape. Stephanie Harvey

guiding to completion


Booth, David and Larry Swartz. Literacy Techniques. Ontario, Canada:

Pembroke Publishers Limited, 2004

Boyles, Nancy N. Constructing Meaning Through Kid-Friendly

Comprehension Strategy Instruction. Gainesville, FL: Maupin

House, 2004.

Harvey, Stephanie. Nonfiction Matters. Portland, Maine: Stenhouse Publishers,1998.

Harvey, Stephanie and Anne Goudvis. Strategies That Work:

Teaching Comprehension to Enhance Understanding. York, ME:Stenhouse Publishers,


Guiding to Completion

Keene, Ellin and Susan Zimmerman. Mosaic of Thought: Teaching

Comprehension in a Reader’s Workshop. Portsmouth, NH: Heinmann,


Miller, Debbie. Reading with Meaning. Portland, Maine: Stenhouse Publishers,


Zimmerman, Susan and Chryse Hutchins. 7 Keys to Comprehension: How

to Help Your Kids Read It and Get It! New York, NY: Three Rivers

Press, 2003.