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Lesson Plan

Choosing One Word: Summarizing Shel Silverstein's "Sick"

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Choosing One Word: Summarizing Shel Silverstein's "Sick"

Grades 1 – 2
Lesson Plan Type Standard Lesson
Estimated Time Two 50-minute sessions
Lesson Author

Lisa Storm Fink

Lisa Storm Fink

Urbana, Illinois


National Council of Teachers of English



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From Theory to Practice



After reading Shel Silverstein's "Sick" aloud, students summarize the poem and count the words in their summary. They then summarize the poem again, using only one word. Students explain their choices and discuss the various words offered as a summary. The class then chooses the one word that best represents what is happening in the poem. Finally, students read a second poem, individually or in small groups, and summarize it using only one word.

Although this lesson plan uses the poem “Sick” as an example, this activity can be done with a text of any length or genre: poetry, picture books, short stories, plays, and novels.

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Shel Silverstein's "Sick": Use this poem as a model to explore one word summaries.

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Kylene Beers describes the strategy of asking students to choose a significant word from a text in her When Kids Can't Read: What Teachers Can Do. Beers explains:

"To encourage what often becomes a lively debate (yes, even with struggling readers!), ask students to choose what they consider to be the most important word from the text they've just read. This strategy, first proposed by David Bleich (1975), forces student back into the text to consider what was the most important aspect of that text." (173-174)

As Bleich explains, this technique encourages readers to recognize that intellectual and emotional reactions to a text are interrelated and ultimately cannot be separated. Deciding on literary importance, then, is always an act of reader response. To choose the most important word in a text, students tap their comprehension of the text in ways that are individual, guided by their own response to the reading.

Further Reading

Beers, Kylene. When Kids Can't Read What Teachers Can Do: A Guide for Teachers 6-12. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2003.


Bleich, David. 1975. Readings and Feelings: An Introduction to Subjective Criticism. Urbana, IL: NCTE.

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