Monday, April 1, 2019

Getting the Gist

Happy spring everyone! For those who haven't had their spring break yet, I SEE YOU. In NYC, we still have another 2.5 weeks until we're off. SEND HELP. 

Recently, I've had a few messages on what strategies I've found helpful for my students, specifically those higher-level skills our older students are required to do. I'm going to jump right in and share one that has worked for me.

Last year I attended a professional development conference on increasing comprehension skills by Anita Archer. I added many strategies to my tool box that day, but my favorite was the "GIST" strategy. I found it easiest to implement, and something you can try TOMORROW.

Here is a little background on the "GIST" strategy (also known as "paragraph shrinking"):

According to National Behaviour Support Service, "‘Get the Gist’ (Cunningham, 1982) is an acronym for Generating Interactions between Schemata and Texts. It is summarizing strategy. Effective summarizing leads to an increase in student learning. Summarizing requires students to focus on the main ideas of a text and to decide what is important without omitting key ideas. The ability to summarize has significant benefits for comprehending and ultimately retaining and recalling information. Teaching students summarizing strategies, like ‘Get the Gist’, helps them learn to synthesize information, a higher order thinking skill which includes analyzing information and identifying key concepts."

I love this strategy because we can teach students to use it during reading (think: annotating), as well as at the end of a passage when they need to identify the main idea. If you search up this strategy, you might find various methods of how it's done. I stick to the method Anita Archer presented, but you should do what works best for your students!

Step One: Select a Nonfiction Passage
Select a nonfiction text that you think would be of interest to your students. When I first start, I always choose something short, no more then a paragraph. I like these Super Duper main idea cards for those beginning stages. I always cover the MC portion because they’re kinda terrible (anyone else think so too?). You can also just photocopy so students have more space to write.


Abby from The Type B SLP mentioned she uses NewsELA articles at the lowest level.  This is also a great idea and something I've done in the past. You can chop them up into paragraphs, and voila! Whatever you choose, just make sure it's not vocabulary heavy. I want my students to feel successful when we first start. As they progress, you should definitively start introducing more challenging text.

Step two: Review Strategy
Prior to reading the paragraph, I always introduce the strategy we’re learning and it’s purpose. You can say something like: "today we're going to learn a new strategy that will help us identify the main idea of a paragraph. Why do you think this is important? OR what does it mean to find the main idea?" Once they answer, you can say: "the strategy involves three steps. After we read this paragraph, we will do the following:

Step 1: Identify the who or what of the passage.

Step 2: Identify the most important details about the who or what.

Step 3: Take this information and identify the main idea in 10 words** or less.

I like having a cue card for my students, so they have the steps in front of them. You can use something like this.


Step three: I Do, We Do, You Do
Now you're ready to begin (I feel like some cheesy tutorial, haha)! It’s very important that you model for students first. Anita Archer talks about the “I do, we do, you do” structure to instruction. I always try to implement this in therapy. I begin by reading the passage to my students. Lets use this paragraph from the super duper MI deck:



After we're done reading, I talk aloud so they hear my thought process. First, I circle the who/what of the passage. I might say something like: "hmm, this paragraph was definitely about bones."  

Then I ask myself: “what is important about bones? Well, they protect our organs and give us shape. We also have bones everywhere.” You might want to ask students to write this down, or highlight. 

Lastly, they need to identify the main idea in 10 words or less, so I might say: "Okay, now this is going to be tricky. Let me see how I can shrink all this into 10 words or less." ::::::scratches head::::: "Okay, I think I got it...let me know what you think: Bones protect human organs and give us shape." BAM- 8 words. 

Keep in mind, the first few trials are going to be challenging. You may need to model 2x before they try. Judge based on your students. One thing for sure though, they will love competing with each other on who has the best main ideas in under 10 words! I don’t care if it’s 6 or 10 words, I just want it to be a strong one!

Do another round working as a group ("we do"), and then let students try ("you do")!


There you have it. I hope I did a good job explaining this strategy. I think it will be helpful for your students across many levels. If you want more information, here are some great resources: 


1.  A GIST lesson plan if you feel like you need more guidance.
2. This packet has tons of organizer for getting the GIST. It also shows you different variations, especially if you want to use longer passages with students.

As always, let me know your thoughts and how you plan on using it with your students! If there's anything I can explain better- feel free to reach out!



15 comments on "Getting the Gist"
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  2. Hey Gabby! I've commented on you IG posts multiple times before but just wanted to say THANK YOU again for all of your posts!! I just started my third year in an NYC grades 6-12 school (saw you at a PD once and realized who you were and we both know Regina!) and your IG and blog posts have been soooo helpful my first two years!!!! I'm looking forward to all of your awesome ideas!

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