I've been working on a project lately that has me looking at different ways to help students access difficult text. One of the texts that I've been using most is John L. O'Sullivan's essay on Manifest Destiny, first published in 1839, and one of the ways that the concept of "Manifest Destiny" was really codified. There are many different ways to summarize, including highlighting, chunking, just reading the first and last sentences--the question for students and teachers is, "did the summary really get to the intent of the author?"
One of the tools I've seen teachers use to summarize longer sections of text is Wordle, which is a simple way to copy and paste essays, speeches, articles, or even blogs into a website, and it shows you a graphic representation of which words are used most often. There's a fantastic article from Teaching History on how to use it here: http://teachinghistory.org/digital-classroom/tech-for-teachers/20785 with a lot more examples than I can explain.
I ran Mr. O'Sullivan's essay on Manifest Destiny through Wordle, and got this:
(clicking on the image will take you to Wordle, and give you a clearer view of the diagram)
Looking at the biggest words, several of them are aligned with my ideas of Manifest Destiny: nation, history, destined...but there are a lot more that fly in the face of our current ideas about what Manifest Destiny really did. Could words like moral, equality, freedom, rights and progress really be applied to what happened to the Native American Indians? Looking at just the Wordle image generated by his essay, that's what some students would believe. It's a great way to look at how summaries (and the different ways we create them) can lead us towards or away from the author's intentions.
If you've used Wordle for particular assignments, let us know, and we can share those ideas with other teachers.