The ability to summarize is perhaps the most important subskill involved in comprehension (Caccamise & Snyder, 2005; Friend, 2000). But it is a difficult skill to teach. Unskilled students are prone to say too little or too much in their summaries (Thiede & Anderson, 2003). GISTing is an excellent strategy for helping students paraphrase and summarize essential information. Students are required to limit the gist of a paragraph to a set number of words. Individual sentences from a paragraph are presented one at a time while students create a gist that must contain only the predetermined number of words. By limiting the total number of words students can use, this approach to summarizing forces them to think about only the most important information in a paragraph, which is the essence of comprehension (Brown & Day, 1983).
1. For the first step in teaching GISTing, select appropriate paragraphs on which to write gists. It is best to start with relatively short paragraphs of no more than three to five sentences that are easily understood.
2. Next, establish a limited number of spaces to represent the total number of words of the gist, say 15 or so.
3. Students read the first sentence of the paragraph and, using only the spaces allowed, write a statement in those spaces capturing the essential information of the sentence. This is the beginning of their gist.
4. Have students read the second sentence of the paragraph and, using the information from the first and second sentences of the paragraph, they rewrite their gist statement by combining information from the first sentence with information from the second. Again, the students’ revised gist statement should be no more than the allotted number of spaces. This process continues with the remaining sentences of the paragraph.
5. As students read each succeeding sentence, they should rework their gist statement by accommodating any new information from the sentence into the existing gist statement, while not using any more than the allotted number of spaces.
6. Finally, students should share their gists for comment and critique.
Brown, A., & Day, J. (1983). Macrorules for summarizing text: The development of expertise. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior, 22, 1-14.
Caccamise, D., & Snyder, L. (2005). Theory and pedagogical practices of text comprehension. Topics in Language Disorders, 25, 5-20.
Friend, R. (2000). Teaching summarization as a content area reading strategy. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 44, 320-330.
Thiede, K., & Anderson, M.C. (2003). Summarizing can improve metacomprehension accuracy. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 28, 129-161.
CONTENT LITERACY STRATEGY DESCRIPTIONS for the 2008 LOUISIANA COMPREHENSIVE CURRICULUM, Dr. William G. Brozo, May 2008