GIST Strategy for Reading Comprehension

GIST: A Reading Comprehension Strategy

If you’re a teacher, you’re well aware of the struggles some students face when it comes to reading comprehension. GIST is an effective strategy designed to help readers improve comprehension and retention of complex texts. In this post, I’ll explore the history of the strategy, how to use it, why it’s effective, and ideas for the classroom.

What is the GIST strategy?

GIST is a reading comprehension strategy designed to help students identify the most important information and write a brief summary for an entire text or a section of text using 15 words or less. The goal of a GIST summary is for students to convey the “GIST” of what they read without the extraneous details.  

What does GIST mean?

GIST stands for Generating Interactions between Schemata and Text. The strategy was developed in 1982 by James Cunningham, PhD, professor emeritus of literacy studies at the University of North Carolina. The GIST strategy requires students to write accurate summaries using 15 words or less. As Cunningham describes it, GIST is conducted first as a whole class, then in small groups, and finally individually.

How do students write a GIST summary? 

It is important to support students in writing GIST summaries until they can do them independently. To scaffold instruction, start with short texts, sections, or paragraphs. 

  1. Read a short text or a section of text. 
  2. Identify the who, what, when, where, why, & how (where applicable). 
  3. Use the 5Ws to write a summary of the text in 15 words or less.

How to write a GIST summary

Example from Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl (entire text)

  • Who: Anne Frank
  • What: hid 
  • When: during WWII
  • Where: in an attic in Amsterdam
  • Why: to avoid being captured
  • How: by the Nazis 

Summary: Anne Frank hid during WWII in an attic in Amsterdam to avoid being captured by the Nazis.

GIST summary example

Why is the GIST strategy effective?

The GIST strategy improves comprehension and retention because it requires readers to connect new information to prior knowledge. To do this, readers focus on the most important information in a text and then use their own words to write a summary.

When students use the GIST strategy, they learn how to…  

  • identify the main ideas and key details
  • synthesize information
  • use concise language
  • write effective summaries 

Get started with GIST using this printable graphic organizer! Click the link below to download it for FREE today!

Here are some unique ways to use the GIST strategy in your classroom:

  • bell ringers 
  • current events 
  • reading logs
  • chapter/section assessments
  • review activities 
  • stations/centers
  • exit tickets 

Ultimately, we want our students to be confident and proficient readers. The GIST strategy will provide them with the skills to do just that! Click here for additional reading comprehension strategies that are suitable for all levels of readers! 

Support your reading comprehension strategies with graphic organizers! Support reading comprehension with graphic organizers! Get 20 printable, editable, and digital graphic organizers for all text types. 

“I love this resource. I am a first year teacher, and these graphic organizers have been a life saver. I like that I can use them for different novels.” -Stephanie M.

Click HERE to get all the reading comprehension graphic organizers listed below. ⬇️

  • Main Idea and Details
  • Author’s Purpose
  • Cause and Effect
  • Problem/Solution
  • Questioning
  • Compare and Contrast
  • Fact vs. Opinion
  • Plot Diagram
  • Point of View
  • Genre
  • Inference
  • Predictions
  • Sequence of Events
  • KWL
  • Summarize
  • Text Connections
  • Timeline
  • Visualize
  • Perspectives
  • Vocabulary
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reading comprehension graphic organizers shop now

GIST Summary Graphic Organizer

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Improve Reading Comprehension with the GIST Strategy