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).  

Teaching Process

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.


A GISTing Example

A social studies teacher taught the GISTing strategy while his class was learning about ancient Rome.  He selected a sample three-sentence paragraph from the textbook to teach gist writing.  He began by typing the first sentence of the paragraph on the computer and projected it on the screen for his class to see.   He then directed students to write a summary of the first sentence using only 15 words.  He allowed students to work in pairs.  Afterward, he elicited the various first-sentence gists from several pairs of students and typed and projected a version the whole class could agree upon.  The teacher and his social studies students went through the same process for the remaining two sentences of the paragraph.  As they read the new sentences, they revised their original gist but kept it within the 15 word limit (See the paragraph and gist sentences below.)   By conducting the GISTing lesson with his students, the teacher was able to model and clarify the process throughout, until a final acceptable gist was crafted for the entire paragraph.



Paragraph from social studies text

          Julius Caesar was famous as a statesman, a general, and an author, but

ancient traffic jams forced him to become a traffic engineer, too.  These

          traffic snarls were so acute in the marketplace of Imperial Rome and

          around the Circus Maximus that all chariots and ox carts were banned

          for ten hours after sunrise.  Only pedestrians were allowed into the streets

          and markets.  Caesar also found it necessary to abolish downtown parking

          and establish one-way streets.


Class gist statements for each sentence of paragraph

1.    Julius   Caesar   was   famous   for   many   things   including   traffic engineer.  ________    ________    ________    ________    ________

2.    As  traffic  engineer  Julius  Caesar  banned  chariots  and  ox  carts from  Rome  during  the  daytime.

3.    As  traffic  engineer  Julius Caesar  banned  all  but  pedestrians  from

      Rome  during  the  daytime.

4.    As Rome’s traffic engineer Julius Caesar allowed only pedestrians, created one-way streets, and banned parking.

    After several gisting activities using this approach, the teacher guided students in constructing summaries without having to gist each sentence of a paragraph.  It is more important that students recognize that the gisting process is a mental one and not necessarily a written one.  Eventually, the teacher was gathering overall gists for sections of text by having students combine essential information from summary statement made from several paragraphs.



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.



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