Spotlight on Reading Strategies

Reading to get the "GIST"

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“GIST” is a higher-level comprehension strategy used both during and after reading. It helps to develop the skill of summarizing, which can be a difficult task for most elementary students. Summarizing requires them to focus on the main idea of a text to decide what is essential and what is not, which is a huge part of reading comprehension.

The ability to summarize effectively has significant benefits for overall reading comprehension and information retention. In the Educational Leadership article, Summarize to Get the Gist, John Collins states, “If a teacher asks students to not only read, but also summarize an article, the students will have to give that article more than a cursory glance” (2012). They are looking at the text on a much deeper level and, as a result, will get more out of it. With any skill that is difficult to master, the only way to get better at it is to have more exposure, Collins feels. He says, “Further, if students routinely summarize articles in a variety of subjects, they’ll learn how to construct arguments in each discipline” (Collins, 2012). That being said, GIST is a strategy that can be applied in all subjects across the board.


Whole Group (Session 1)

1. Reintroduce the term, GIST, as the process of summarizing information.

2. Choose an article, either on a topic studied in class or a current event.

3. Use a projector/SmartBoard to display the article and read it aloud to the class, while each student follows along with a paper copy.

4. Model the GIST process by reading the article orally and stopping to “think aloud”.

5. While reading, explain how to fill out the GIST template and invite students to help.

6. When the article is done, put class into small groups to discuss how to sum up the article in 20 words or less. Then, have them record it at the bottom of the GIST template.

7. Ask a few volunteers to share their group’s summary aloud and discuss.

Partner Activity (Session 2)

1. Have the class talk about how the GIST strategy could be used in other subjects.

2. Then, tell them that they will apply the strategy to a social studies topic by

examining excerpts from the Declaration of Independence.

4. First, read aloud The Declaration of Independence by Sam Fink.

5. Next, divide students into pairs and distribute the Declaration Excerpt Handout.

6. Students will work in pairs to read each excerpt and carry out the “GIST”

strategy to develop a brief summary of all five sections.

7. When all pairs have finished, go over the excerpts and translations as a class.

Independent Technology Component (Session 3)

1. Tell students they will use their completed Declaration handout to prepare a creative online Smore Flyer.

2. Do a brief demonstration of Smore for students to show how to navigate the site.

3. Have each student choose one of the five excerpts they would like to present.

4. Explain that they will need a title for their Smore page, a brief paragraph explaining what the “GIST” of their chosen passage is, 2 photographs, and a link to a related website.

5. Allow the students to complete their Smore Flyers in a computer lab, or with a classroom set of laptops, while circulating to assist.

"A Powerful Performance"-Declaration of Independence

This is a video clip from "A Powerful Performance." In this clip, the Declaration of Independence is read by a number of popular actors in an inspiring manner. Playing this for students will emphasize the significance of this sacred government document and allow them to hear the words delivered through a different type of media.
The Declaration of Independence


Try this reading strategy out in your own classroom...there are so many possibilities! The positive aspect of this strategy is that it can be used with any concept or subject area. Plus, students can either complete their GIST on paper or computer.

  • After reading a text chapter, independently or during whole group reading, have each student compose a written summary of no more than 20 words.
  • Ask students to summarize a difficult math concept discussed in class. They can explain it out loud to a family member or classmate first, before doing the "GIST".
  • Have students demonstrate their understanding of a science experiment by having them put what they learned in their own words.
  • To inspire ideas for writing, have the class explain the "GIST" of a photograph and share their ideas with one another before beginning a short story.

Each of the above ideas can be made into an online Smore Flyer to evaluate student understanding. Click here find out 'smore about Smore! :)

Smore Tutorial


Collaborative strategic reading: Get the gist. (n.d.). Retrieved June 3, 2015 from

Collins, J. (2012). Educational leadership online: Summarizing to get the gist. Retrieved June 3, 2015 from

Declaration excerpt handout. (n.d). Teachers’ curriculum institute. Retrieved June 3, 2015 from

Fink, S. (2002). The declaration of independence: The words that made america. Bt Bound.

Get the gist [Digital Image]. (n.d.). Retrieved June 3, 2015 from

GIST template (2011). International reading association. Retrieved June 3, 2015 from

Keep calm and write the summary [Digital Image]. (n.d). Retrieved June 3, 2015 from

The Declaration of Independence [Video]. (2007, September 12). Retrieved June 3, 2015 from [Video]. (2013, March 7). Retrieved June 3, 2015 from

Strategies for reading comprehension: Summarizing. (n.d). Retrieved June 3, 2015 from

Thinking cap [Digital Image]. (n.d.). Retrieved June 3, 2015 from

Who, what, where, when, why, how [Digital Image]. (n.d.). Retrieved June 3, 2015 from