A photograph of a dessert table. There are cakes, cupcakes, éclairs, brownies, and cookies.

Source: Another Dessert Table, djwtwo, Flickr

The last course we want to eat at a delicious meal is the dessert. If you have a sweet tooth, this may be your favorite part. A little something sweet gives us a great sense of completion and satisfaction, much like putting  summarized information from a text into a satisfying, logical order.

You saw in the last section that the author incorporated details in an order that made sense in the original text. You also saw that our summary did not follow the same order as the original; the order of supporting details may change so that they make the most sense for us and our audience.

If you can remember that dessert comes last in a meal, you can also remember to place summarized details in a logical order, a sequence that makes sense.

Let’s continue reading Ryan Littrell’s search for information about his ancestors. His great-grandfather’s name was Lee McDonald, but Littrell finds an old newspaper clipping in which “McDonald” is spelled as it is in Scotland, “MacDonald.” Littrell then wonders if his family ancestry began in Scotland. As you read the next passage, think about the most important supporting details.

I’d seen Braveheart, and I’d learned from books about clans and tartans. And now I’d found an accomplice—my mom. We began entertaining the suspicion that we were MacDonalds, despite that little hang-up about our family records only going back to the late 1800s.

So we made plans for a family trip to Scotland. Once we landed in Edinburgh, the gray stones aren’t just in the houses, but in the streets, too, and the buildings date from the Middle Ages to the 18th century. The roads are narrow and a little hilly, and so they turn and wind around. It was early July, with flowers at almost every address, bright reds and blues and yellows up against stone. A train took us out to Oban, a port town on the west coast.

All around was the chance, like a ghost, that an ancestor had walked here. This far west, this far north, some MacDonalds must have lived. Maybe right here, beneath the ruins of a castle, my ancestors had a home. Every corner hid a hint, like someone else just might be lurking.

Don, from Ohio, was visiting his ancestors’ lands, and when asked why he’d decided to come here, he responded: “Because this is where I’m from. Not physically. I didn’t physically come from here, I wasn’t physically born here, but this is where I’m from.”

From a friend, I knew that DNA might be able to give me an idea of where my ancestors came from. Once I had a DNA test and received the results that I could definitely trace my ancestry to one little group of people named MacDonald, who lived for centuries in one particular place, I felt like I’d just heard my name for the first time.

After Ryan Littrell’s completes his research, he discovers the homeland of his ancestors. Let’s review the original main idea from the beginning of his book.

We share DNA with our ancestors, and although we never knew them, their lives and experiences are important for helping us understand who we are.


take notes icon

Now, with this main idea in mind, summarize the supporting details from the passage above, with a special emphasis on placing details in a logical order. First, choose the supporting details from the passage by reading the paragraph(s) in each box below and deciding what the most important details are. Use your notes to write your response. When you're finished, check your understanding to see how you did. The first detail has been completed for you.



A photograph of a Scottish Bagpiper wearing full ceremonial garb, fur hat, and kilt

Source: Bagpipe performer,
Gebruiker:Ellywa, Wikimedia

“I’d seen Braveheart, and I’d learned from books about clans and tartans. And now I’d found an accomplice—my mom. We began entertaining the suspicion that we were MacDonalds, despite that little hang-up about our family records only going back to the late 1800s.”



Important detail: “And now I’d found an accomplice—my mom. We began entertaining the suspicion that we were MacDonalds,”










A photograph of a sidewalk in downtown Edinburgh, Scotland

Source: Edinburgh 1120452 nevit,
Nevit Dilmen, Wikimedia

“So we made plans for a family trip to Scotland. Once we landed in Edinburgh, the gray stones aren’t just in the houses, but in the streets, too, and the buildings date from the Middle Ages to the 18th century. The roads are narrow and a little hilly, and so they turn and wind around. It was early July, with flowers at almost every address, bright reds and blues and yellows up against stone. A train took us out to Oban, a port town on the west coast.”

 Check Your Understanding

Sample Response:

Important detail: “So we made plans for a family trip to Scotland. . . . A train took us out to Oban, a port town on the west coast.”


A photograph of a castle in Scotland

Source: Edinburgh Castle, Scottish National War Memorial
rear, Nifanion, Wikimedia

“All around was the chance, like a ghost, that an ancestor had walked here. This far west, this far north, some MacDonalds must have lived. Maybe right here, beneath the ruins of a castle, my ancestors had a home. Every corner hid a hint, like someone else just might be lurking.”

Check Your Understanding

Sample Response:

Important detail: “All around was the chance, like a ghost, that an ancestor had walked here. . . . Maybe right here, beneath the ruins of a castle, my ancestors had a home.”


An image of DNA helixes

Source: Ssvsds,
Wikimedia

“From a friend, I knew that DNA might be able to give me an idea of where my ancestors came from. Once I had a DNA test and received the results that I could definitely trace my ancestry to one little group of people named MacDonald, who lived for centuries in one particular place, I felt like I’d just heard my name for the first time.”

Check Your Understanding

Sample Response:

Important detail: “Once I had a DNA test and received the results that I could definitely trace my ancestry to one little group of people named MacDonald, who lived for centuries in one particular place, I felt like I’d just heard my name for the first time.”


take notes icon

Now that you’ve identified the supporting details, use your notes to write a summary statement of the supporting details. Include some information about each set of details, but do not repeat the details entirely since our goal is to reduce large sections of text to their essential points. Remember to organize the details so that they support the main idea. After you have written your summary statement, check your understanding for a possible response.


Check Your Understanding

Sample Response:

Litrell and his mother, fascinated by the possibility that they had Scottish ancestry, took a trip to Scotland, where their excitement grew as they imagined their own ancestors in that same location. Like others who visit their family’s homeland, Littrell felt a deep connection to the town in Scotland where his ancestors might have lived. Ultimately, a DNA test confirmed that he did indeed have Scottish ancestry.

A chemical model/breakdown of a strand of DNA

Source: DNA chemical structure, Wikimedia

Littrell’s journey begins and ends with the idea that our DNA could connect us to family members who lived long ago. The arrangement of details in this summary is the same as in the text because in this passage, each step of Littrell’s journey leads logically to the next one. Therefore, it makes sense to keep the summary of supporting details in the same order.

Perhaps you will undertake a journey similar to Littrell’s in your life, but even if you don’t, you will definitely read many other informational texts. That’s why you need to know how to summarize main ideas, supporting details, and relationships among ideas. Just remember the following steps:

  1. Read carefully, highlighting or underlining words that convey a big picture idea.
  2. From the words you chose, create a summary of the main idea.
  3. Use chunks of text or paragraphs to organize details that support the main idea.
  4. Select key information from each chunk or paragraph to include the summary of the supporting details.
  5. Arrange the information in an order that makes sense.
A photograph of a barbeque dinner of shredded pork, greens, and beans

Source: Large BBQ Dinner, rhiannonstone, Flickr




Creating an effective summary is similar to eating a multi-course meal, and it can be just as much fun. Start with the main idea, sample the supporting details, and top them off with a satisfying summary.