We often ask our students to summarize events in the texts that they read—be they fiction or nonfiction. However, to truly help students gain a clear understanding of the texts, we need to move beyond summarizing and take their writing and analysis a step further. This is where we introduce writing a synthesis: a discussion that makes connections between arguments and across texts.
It’s important to encourage students to compare different points of view. Just this act alone asks students consider varied perspectives, making them more aware of counterarguments or passages where arguments and claims conflict. What’s more, writing a synthesis will help students better formulate their own thoughts and ideas, helping them consider questions like “Neither X nor Y has mentioned this other point. What if they had?”
Let’s take a look at three quick steps to help get your students writing syntheses.
1. Make Text-to-Text Connections
Students are likely familiar with annotating texts. However, if they know that you’re having them read something with the aim of comparing it to another text, this will help them annotate more clearly because the purpose is clear. Have them annotate with an eye for a comparison, noting major points in the texts, choosing relevant examples, and summarizing the main points of each text.
2. Decide What Those Connections Mean
Now that students have annotated their texts, encourage them to compare their notes by putting them into a separate worksheet or document. From there, they can compare their notes on the different texts, track counterarguments, and record their thoughts. With their notes right in front of them, students can decide what the similarities and differences mean to them. When they begin to identify meaning, they have begun creating their synthesis.
3. Formulate a Synthesis
Having looked at their notes, students can now identify an overarching idea that brings together all the ideas that they’ve read about. From here, they can write a synthesis that creates connections and makes use of the examples they’ve found. To extend this work, have students build on their syntheses to serve as an essay on a larger theme of their choice. They’ve already done the bulk of the work; all they need to do is get it on paper.
We hope that this has been a helpful discussion. Please feel free to leave a comment with any other tips or questions you might have!