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Grade 5 - English Language
4.17 Writing a Summary

Directions: Read and summarize the following selection. As a homework, read any newspaper article and write a summary.

Hint: A simple summary can be obtained by just identifying the topic sentences from all the paragraphs and writing them down!


Approximately one-third of the Earth's land surface is desert, arid land with meager rainfall that supports only sparse vegetation and a limited population of people and animals. Deserts--stark, sometimes mysterious worlds--have been portrayed as fascinating environments of adventure and exploration from narratives such as that of Lawrence of Arabia to movies such as "Dune." These arid regions are called deserts because they are dry. They may be hot, they may be cold. They may be regions of sand or vast areas of rocks and gravel peppered with occasional plants. But deserts are always dry.

Deserts are natural laboratories in which to study the interactions of wind and sometimes water on the arid surfaces of planets. They contain valuable mineral deposits that were formed in the arid environment or that were exposed by erosion. Because deserts are dry, they are ideal places for human artifacts and fossils to be preserved. Deserts are also fragile environments. The misuse of these lands is a serious and growing problem in parts of our world.

There are almost as many definitions of deserts and classification systems as there are deserts in the world. Most classifications rely on some combination of the number of days of rainfall, the total amount of annual rainfall, temperature, humidity, or other factors. In 1953, Peveril Meigs divided desert regions on Earth into three categories according to the amount of precipitation they received. In this now widely accepted system, extremely arid lands have at least 12 consecutive months without rainfall, arid lands have less than 250 millimeters of annual rainfall, and semiarid lands have a mean annual precipitation of between 250 and 500 millimeters. Arid and extremely arid land are deserts, and semiarid grasslands generally are referred to as steppes.

Dry areas created by global circulation patterns contain most of the deserts on the Earth. The deserts of our world are not restricted by latitude, longitude, or elevation. They occur from areas close to the poles down to areas near the Equator. The People's Republic of China has both the highest desert, the Qaidam Depression that is 2,600 meters above sea level, and one of the lowest deserts, the Turpan Depression that is 150 meters below sea level. Deserts are not confined to Earth. The atmospheric circulation patterns of other terrestrial planets with gaseous envelopes also depend on the rotation of those planets, the tilts of their axes, their distances from the Sun, and the composition and density of their atmospheres. Except for the poles, the entire surface of Mars is a desert. Venus also may support deserts.

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