How to Use Summative Writing

by | Jul 24, 2018 | Social Studies, Writing | 0 comments

Please also make sure to check out the rest of the “Writing in Social Studies” series.

  1. How to Integrate Writing into Social Studies
  2. Formative vs Summative Writing
  3. How to Use Summative Writing
  4. How to Use Formative Writing

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  • Summative: of or relating to the process of summing things up.

While formative writing should be used throughout a social studies unit, summative writing should only be used at the end of a unit as a final assessment piece. This article will discuss how to use summative writing assessments in an integrated unit, as well as explain different examples of summative writing.

What is Summative Writing?

Summative writing is an assessment in which the student demonstrates his or her level of mastery of the standards and objectives taught within the unit. It is a comprehensive writing piece and will require a significant amount of class time to instruct, draft, revise, edit, and complete. This is not an assignment that students should be allowed to correct after grading since it is the evidence of their level of mastery.

The length and complexity of summative writing will vary depending upon the grade level. It is important that students understand the purpose and style of the writing they are being asked to complete as a summative assessment. Teachers should create a rubric detailing the expectations of the assessment.

Grading rubrics are central to this form of summative assessment. Rubrics should clearly express both quality and content expectations, as well as how they will be identified by the teacher. Students should be given the rubric at the beginning of the assessment process. Teachers should not move forward until the students have demonstrated understating of the grading rubric.

For examples of writing rubrics, teachers should check their state department of education. As each state sets its own standards, using rubrics provided by the state can help teachers of other subjects to understand the ELA expectations. Florida has rubrics available in the Writing Scoring Sampler pdfs found on the FSA Assessments website.

Introducing the Writing Assessment

The unit plan, including standards, objectives, and content, will determine the type of writing students will be required to do for the summative piece.

When developing social science units that incorporate writing, it is important to determine the Essential Question(s) that will focus student learning of the materials presented and specify exactly what they will need to demonstrate mastery.

These Essential Questions become the basis of the summative writing prompt. A good writing prompt will incorporate the overall goal of the unit by requiring students to understand and refer to specific information and domain-specific vocabulary presented over the course of the unit.

It is best if the summative (essential) question of the unit is introduced at the beginning of the unit and placed in the classroom where it can be easily referred to and referenced by both teacher and students. This will allow the teacher to connect each lesson’s objectives to the required summative writing task and give students a framework to organize ideas and information in the unit.

Types of Summative Writing

Summative writing may take a variety of forms: informational/explanatory, compare/contrast, argumentative, evaluative, and abstract. Each form of writing has unique attributes and requirements which should be clearly presented and checked for understanding before beginning the summative assessment. Sufficient time must be set aside for the presentation of the summative writing goals and requirements, drafting, revising, and editing of the writing before it is submitted for grading.


Informational or explanatory writing is the most common choice in most social science curriculum. It is essentially summarizing of the key points, main ideas, and domain-specific vocabulary taught within the unit plan.

Students are expected to use key details from sources to either explain or demonstrate understanding of a specific topic. Writing should include an introduction followed by a logically sequenced presentation of the key details, with a summative conclusion at the end. Depth of understanding is demonstrated by the effective use of domain-specific vocabulary and inferences supported by text evidence.

The length and complexity of these essays will be determined by grade level writing expectations.


Although some people use opinion and persuasive interchangeably, they are a little different. An opinion piece simply needs to state an opinion and support it with facts and details. Students are expected to master a little more of this writing type each year, so teachers need to check the standards for their grade level. Opinion writing is taught through 5th grade.


Argumentative writing must contain several specific elements to be complete and effective. It requires the establishment of a claim by the student in the introduction that is supported by resource details in the opening of the body. The opposing claim presents the opposite point of view from the student’s claim statement later in the body with textual support. A counterclaim is a student’s specific arguments against the opposing claim’s support and immediately follows the opposing claim in the body.

Arguments must contain a claim, opposing claim, counterclaim, and conclusion or they are not arguments. Resource materials must present more than one perspective on the theme being studied for argumentation to be an effective writing choice.

Argumentative writing is taught beginning in 6th grade.


Persuasive writing is a little different from argumentative. Persuasive writing does not necessarily need to make an argument, nor does it need two or more points to compare. Themes that have multiple points-of-view or ambiguous stances fit this writing domain.


Students will take a stance on an individual, event, era, etc., presenting their point-of-view in the introduction. The body of the essay will then require the writer to persuade the reader of its validity. Specific text details and domain-specific vocabulary are critical to the demonstration of mastery in this form of writing. Conclusions should summarize the key points of the author and end with a challenge to the reader to accept the point-of-view presented.

Compare & Contrast

Comparison writing lends itself to themes that have multiple aspects, individuals, or regions in them. This writing should contain a set of attributes or characteristics that the writer can compare using text evidence.  These essays do not ask the writer to favor one choice over the other, but to demonstrate understanding of both through the comparison.

Students demonstrate mastery of the unit standards and objectives by effectively presenting the similarities and differences between the two based on what they have learned, and text evidence identified within the unit. In the lower primary grades, this can be achieved through the “writing” of a Venn Diagram to the composition of simple sentences and paragraphs.

Always check the grade level expectations for writing while creating unit plans in order to understand what students are expected to master.


Evaluative writing asks students to take a specific element, idea, event, or individual taught during the unit and assess it using specific criteria. Students must take a position on the theme and effectively support it with evidence from the text and unit materials. This writing needs to be logically sequenced, with unbiased evidence in support of the students’ assessment.

This is a much more complex level of thinking and writing, more likely used in the Middle and Secondary Grades.


Theorizing is an advanced form of writing that answers, “What if?” In this writing, a theory is presented on a specific theme that presents reality or an alternative to the reality. Students are expected to take an individual, event, or era and, through valid, sourced evidence, demonstrate an understanding of cause and effect.

Writing should be logical and sequential, with clearly identified causes and effects supported by factual evidence and based on probable outcomes. This writing requires a depth of knowledge and understanding beyond memorization of facts and should include domain-specific vocabulary. Conclusive paragraphs should demonstrate the significance of the topic and how its manipulation has impacted future outcomes.


Abstract writing is the highest degree of difficulty. Students are required to develop their own theme for the writing based upon the materials presented during the unit plan. These essays need to take into consideration the purpose, audience, and content of the writing. Students will need to employ references to factual material from the unit including domain-specific vocabulary to demonstrate mastery of the standards and objectives being assessed.


Summative writing must progress through all stages of the writing process, including gathering and organizing information, drafting, peer review and editing before being submitted for grading. Each step in the writing process before the final submission should be scored (not graded) for completeness or timeliness of completion regardless of the level of quality.

It is important to put the responsibility for quality control on the student and his or her peers. This encourages collaboration among students, which exposes them to a variety of ideas for content, syntax, and structure within the writing process and enables them to develop more effective metacognitive skills.

When completed and submitted to the teacher, summative writing is then graded based upon the rubric presented at the beginning of the task. In order to have a true record of students’ mastery of the targeted standards, this writing piece should not be edited and regraded.

Since summative writing is a mastery level assessment and occurs only at the end of unit, it should carry a greater value (weight) within the students’ overall academic grade.

Please also make sure to check out the rest of the “Writing in Social Studies” series.

  1. How to Integrate Writing into Social Studies
  2. Formative vs Summative Writing
  3. How to Use Summative Writing
  4. How to Use Formative Writing

Over twenty plus years, my educational career has spanned four continents and two states, as well as eight grade levels!

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