The Gist literacy strategy is an approach to text that teaches students to identify important details in text. Concise and flexible, Gist is easy to learn and apply, but don’t be deceived into thinking this is a shallow learning strategy…it is not!
Most students are already familiar with the “5 Ws”—who, what, when, where, and why. The Gist literacy strategy emphasizes these elements as the focus of a text experience. I have seen the Gist strategy used in analyzing paragraphs and as the basis of summary writing, and those are great uses of the strategy. However, there are many more adaptations for Gist…and here are three for you to peruse and adapt for your own classroom:
Gist Literacy Strategy Approach #1 –
Use the Gist literacy strategy with short passages of non-fiction text as a note taking strategy and/or the basis of summary writing.
In this example, I used this strategy with students who were reading a book about Washington, D.C. landmarks. I prepared a journal for them (click here for pdf sample of my gist journal). I inserted a photo copied of each particular landmark from google images on the top center of a page, inserted a line for captioning the photo, and then copied/pasted a gist format (who, what, when, where, why) that took up the rest of the page. I did include a reflection prompt at the back of the journal asking students to identify which monument they would most like to visit and why.
As I have mentioned before (in every blog post past and future, I believe), the key to student success with this strategy is MODELING the strategy for them. For that reason, we did shared reading of the first couple of sections in the text. The most important point I wanted to model for my students was that “who, what, when, where, and why” does not look the same for each entry–or even for each student! What the students can record for each of the five Ws depends upon the information in the text as well as what stands out to the individual students.
Here’s what I mean:
The who can only be people who are mentioned in the text…same with the other Ws.
The what can be what for or what about it, etc.
The when can be a specific date or an unspecified time when something happened, etc.
The where can be a specific location or where something happens, etc.
The why can be why something exists or why it is important, etc.
These photos are my models of what I expected from the students when using this strategy. We read and analyzed the text from each of these sections together. I wrote the notes on the board; the students wrote the same notes in their gist journals.
Once I had thoroughly modeled the strategy, I did not just let the students go with it…since this was the first time this particular group of students had used the gist literacy strategy. I had them read the next section, on the White House, and fill in their own notes. Then, we went over the gist notes together just to give the students additional support in synthesizing the text into gist notes.
The following section, on the Lincoln Memorial, was straightforward, so the students did not struggle on their own with that text. However, they did struggle with the section on the Arlington National Cemetery.
Once I saw they were struggling, I began asking them questions to help them figure out the gist for themselves:
- Who is buried there? (We did have to establish that not ALL of the soldiers from all of the wars are buried there…that was a little confusing.)
- What is its purpose? What can people do there?
- When are flags placed on all the graves?
- Where is it located? (this had not really been a struggle for them…)
- Why do tourists visit there?
Here is our resulting shared gist for this section:
Students do not always have to have identical gists from the same text. The gist of a text is a reflection of the student’s comprehension of a particular text. Comprehension is heavily influenced by background knowledge; therefore, background knowledge will influence what students choose for gist statements. However, as important as background knowledge is to comprehension, do emphasize to students that information in their gists must come from the text. Gist statements should not be based on background knowledge that is not mentioned in the text.
Gist Literacy Strategy Approach #2 –
Another great use for the Gist literacy strategy is with newspaper articles.
Modeling, again, is so important. Before assigning students to write their own gist statements about a newspaper article, the teacher should model using the strategy with a newspaper article.
Here are sample gist notes from this newspaper article:
Be sure to guide students to discover that all of the information for the gist statements comes from the first two paragraphs of the newspaper article (and in this case, the picture caption). This can serve as an effective introduction to or review of the pyramid structure of journalistic writing.
Additionally, the first two paragraphs of the newspaper article serves as an excellent model of a summary of the entire article. By analyzing both gist-to-summary and summary-to-gist, students will gain a deeper understanding of how to write gist statements and how to write summaries from gist statements. When writing newspaper articles in class, maybe as part of a journalism unit, students can even use gist statements to plan their leads for their articles.
Gist Literacy Strategy Approach #3 –
Whereas the first two adaptations for the Gist literacy strategy showed its use with non-fiction, this flexible approach can be used with fiction as well, especially as a basis for summarizing.
Click here for a sample, reproducible journal pages: Chapter Book GIST Summary Journal with Rubric.
Here is how the gist literacy strategy could be effectively used with a fiction chapter book using the above gist journal approach.
Model the strategy first with a short story or the first chapter of a book that all of the students have read. (Note: I am assuming here that each students is reading his/her own chapter book and the strategy is being used with independent reading. Feel free, though, to adapt the use to the needs of your own students.)
Then, model writing the summary based on the gist statements about the chapter. Likewise, students will need to be familiar with how to write a summary before using this strategy as a journaling approach with their reading.
Here is an example from the illustrated classics version of Robinson Crusoe:
Used with independent reading, the gist statements/summaries can be an informative indicator of students’ reading comprehension and be helpful in aiding the teacher’s evaluation of students’ reading. Thus, these types of reading journals (built around the gist literacy strategy) can inform instruction on an individual basis, assist the teacher in planning for small group instruction, and be useful in helping the teacher plan for whole class reading lessons.
These are but three uses for the gist literacy strategy. I hope these ideas are helpful in assisting you to implement this strategy in your own classroom!