Ohio Resource Center
Strategies:  Browse Reading Strategies


by Shannon Bumgarner
  What is synthesizing? 
Synthesizing is the process whereby a student merges new information with prior knowledge to form a new idea, perspective, or opinion or to generate insight.

Synthesizing is a reader's final destination. On their journey, readers pass familiar places, and as they travel on uncharted roads, they get new perspectives, create a new line of thinking, discover original ideas, and achieve insight. As they reach the end of their journey, they realize that their new strategy for learning and thinking will take them all the places they could ever want to go.


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  Where is synthesizing discussed in the Ohio Academic Content Standards? 
Synthesizing is implied throughout the Ohio content standards for English language arts, science, and social studies. Examples include, but are not limited to, the following:

English Language Arts

Standard: Reading Process—Concepts of Print, Comprehension Strategies and Self-Monitoring Strategies
Grades 8–10 and 11–12
  Benchmark B. Demonstrate comprehension of print and electronic text by responding to questions (e.g., literal, inferential, evaluative and synthesizing).

Standard: Informational, Technical and Persuasive Text
Grades 4–7
  Benchmark A. Use text features and graphics to organize, analyze and draw inferences from content to gain additional information.
Grades 11–12
  Benchmark D. Synthesize the content from several sources on a single issue or written by a single author, clarifying ideas and connecting them to other sources and related topics.

Standard: Literary Text
Grades 8–10
  Benchmark B. Explain and analyze how the context of setting and the author's choice of point of view impact a literary text.

Standard: Research
Grades 11–12
  Benchmark C. Organize information from various resources and select appropriate sources to support central ideas, concepts and themes.


Standard: Life Sciences
Grades 6–8
  Benchmark D. Explain how extinction of a species occurs when the environment changes and its adaptive characteristics are insufficient to allow survival (as seen in evidence of fossil record).

Standard: Scientific Inquiry
Grades 9–10
  Benchmark A. Participate in and apply the processes of scientific investigation to create models and to design, conduct, evaluate and communicate the results of these investigations.

Social Studies

Standard: History
Grades 6–8
  Benchmark G. Analyze the causes and consequences of the American Civil War.

Standard: Geography
Grades 9–10
  Benchmark A. Analyze the cultural, physical, economic and political characteristics that define regions and describe reasons that regions change over time.

Standard: Economics
Grades 11–12
  Benchmark A. Analyze how scarcity of productive resources affects supply, demand, inflation and economic choices.

Standard: Government
Grades 9–10
  Benchmark B. Analyze the differences among various forms of government to determine how power is acquired and used.


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  How does synthesizing support reading comprehension? 
Synthesizing aids reading comprehension because it requires students to put the new material into their own words and combine it with their prior knowledge. This makes it more likely that they will remember the information and transfer it to new situations, which further reinforces the information.

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  What do skilled readers do when they are synthesizing? 
Skilled readers synthesize as they read. They will:
  • Stop to collect their thoughts
  • Identify the main idea
  • Put the information into their own words and respond to it
  • Combine what they have just learned with what they already know and then respond to it
(Allen, 2004; Harvey & Goudvis, 2000, 2005)

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  What activities support students in synthesizing? 

In introducing the process of synthesizing to my students, I explain that synthesizing is like taking a journey. My students and I discuss the "We're there" poster (shown above) that I created to help them get the idea. The journey idea seems to capture their interest, and the poster hangs on the wall so they can consult it any time.


One outstanding synthesizing activity is the notes/thinking T-chart developed by Stephanie Harvey and Anne Goudvis (2005). An example from my class, on the topic of the French and Indian War, is shown below. You can model the process using your own background knowledge, connections, and thinking.
  1. You might begin by showing the students the notes/thinking T-chart. (A template for the notes/thinking T-chart is available for you to print.) Explain that the purpose of the chart is to help them organize their thinking to connect what they already know with what they are learning. Tell the class that you will be keeping track of your background knowledge, questions, connections, and new information obtained as you demonstrate how to use the chart.
  2. Introduce the reading material (article, text). Tell students first what you, the teacher, notice from the photographs, illustrations, captions, etc., in the text and what information you may already know about the subject matter. Write your observations and reflections in the "Thinking" column of the T-chart on chart paper or an overhead for demonstration purposes.
  3. Next, as you read aloud a short passage from the text, demonstrate how to paraphrase details/facts/gist/main idea and record them in the "Notes" column of the T-chart.
  4. Reflect on your notes to see if all your questions have been answered and to discover any unresolved questions that might be answered as you continue to read.
  5. As the final step, model writing a summary of information from the chart on another page.
As an example, the information in the T-chart below was generated by my students. Note that the left and right sides don't match up. The "Thinking" column shows their questions when I threw out the term French and Indian War. The "Notes" column is the relevant information they learned as we read. Afterward, we look to see what we still need to find out.

Notes Thinking
The French and Indian War (pp. 7–9)
1763—England/colonists ended 7 Year War with French/Indians

Britain rules Canada and North America.

Colonists are happy.

Revolution—a change in the type of government or thinking.
Were the French and Indians fighting?

How is this connected to the Revolutionary War?

What is it?

I never knew colonists were ever happy with Britain.

The class took the final step in the synthesizing process by creating the following summary on a separate sheet of paper:

In 1763, the war between Britain and the colonies against the French and the Native Americans had ended.

Britain now rules North America. The colonists are happy.
Once you feel the students have a firm understanding of the concept, gradually release the responsibility of completing the T-chart to them, having them work first in small groups, then with partners, and eventually independently.

From the ORC Collection
"Germs and the Body" (ORC Record #492) gives students practice in synthesizing. As noted in the ORC record:

Students illustrate where germs exist, how they can get into the body and affect the body, and how the body defends itself against them. In lower elementary school students learn about health in a general sense, e.g., that eating a balanced diet and getting exercise and rest helps people stay healthy. They start to learn about some "things" that can hurt the body if they get into the body. Separately, they learn that germs cause some diseases. Now, they are ready to expand on this learning. They can explore how germs can get into one's body, and what the consequences could be. Also, students can begin to learn how the body physically protects itself from these germs. (author/kct)

You can access the ORC record, which includes a link to the resource along with information such as standards alignment, at http://www.ohiorc.org/record/?id=492, or go straight to the lesson plan at http://www.sciencenetlinks.com/lessons.php?DocID=66.


Another activity that supports synthesizing is Scaffolding Students' Interactions with Texts: Key Concepts Synthesis, which you will find at http://www.greece.k12.ny.us/instruction/ela/6-12/Reading/
. Part of the Greece (New York) Central School District website, this activity addresses the problems students often have when they face material that is so packed with information, they don't know what to focus on or what they should be synthesizing. The activity includes a graphic organizer that helps students to identify and ultimately synthesize key concepts.


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  How can synthesizing be used to teach vocabulary? 
Vocabulary acquisition can easily be incorporated in the notes/thinking T-chart activity:
  • Have students include any bolded words found in the text in the "Notes" section of the chart and include the definition if one is given.
  • Have students include any words that are unfamiliar in the "Thinking" column so that possible meanings can be found by using context clues and discussion.


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  Where can I go for additional resources pertaining to synthesizing? 
Allen, Janet. (2004). Tools for teaching content literacy. Portland, ME: Stenhouse.

Harvey, Stephanie, & Goudvis, Anne. (2005). The comprehension toolkit: Strategy cluster 6—Summarize & synthesize. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Harvey, Stephanie, & Goudvis, Anne. (2000). Strategies that work. York, ME: Stenhouse.

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Allen, Janet. (2004). Tools for teaching content literacy. Portland, ME: Stenhouse.
Harvey, Stephanie, & Goudvis, Anne. (2005). The comprehension toolkit: Strategy cluster 6—Summarize & synthesize. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Harvey, Stephanie, & Goudvis, Anne. (2000). Strategies that work. York, ME: Stenhouse.
Scaffolding students’ interactions with texts: Key concepts synthesis. (n.d.). Greece Central School District, New York. Retrieved August 10, 2006, from http://www.greece.k12.ny.us/instruction/ela/6-12/Reading/
Shannon Bumgarner has been an educator for 19 years, during which time she has taught special education, first grade, Title One reading, and fifth grade and has also served as a literacy specialist. She has provided professional development for several school districts and presented book studies on various teacher resources. She has been a SIRI instructor since 2000.

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