Being able to summarize information and to find the main idea is a critical skill, but students often struggle with the difference between a summary and a full retelling of what they’ve read. Using the GIST -- Generating Interactions between Schemata and Text -- strategy helps students get to the main idea quickly and efficiently. The method works with all types of text, so it is applicable to expository writing in science and social studies classes, as well as narrative works in language arts courses. Using a GIST statement to differentiate between main idea and supporting details may help with student writing, as well as reading skills.

The GIST Statement

By definition, the gist of a passage, conversation or other message is the essential message conveyed. With the GIST strategy, students are taught to use journalism’s 5 Ws and 1 H -- who, what, where, when, why and how -- to create a single-sentence summary. Typically, that summary is limited to 20 words or fewer, which helps students eliminate extra details. Students can apply the plan to longer works by writing GIST statements for each paragraph, section or chapter and then editing them to combine them all into a single 20-word summary. In this way, students distill the entire text to a main idea they can remember.