Get the Gist Summarizing Strategy

Over the next several posts, I will be sharing one of my favorite teaching techniques in reading and writing: Get the Gist.  Get the Gist is a proven method for teaching students how to summarize what they read.  When students can create a brief written summary of a text in their own words, they truly understand what the text says.  Today, we will look at three reasons why we should teach Get the Gist to our students.  Later posts will cover how to effectively teach the strategy.


It is Evidence Based

We owe it to our students to use the most effective research-based teaching practices while they study in our classrooms.  The groundbreaking Just Write! Guide (2012) found that teaching students how to write summaries was the highest value writing strategy adult basic education instructors could teach their students. 


The Reading-Writing Connection

There is a strong connection between reading and writing, especially when we summarize.  While students write summaries, they gain a clearer picture of what a reading is about since they must focus on a reading’s most important ideas and how the author feels about them.  Summary writing allows learners to process their thoughts as they create summary sentences in their own words.  Researcher Dolores Perin (2002) found that the act of simply writing summaries improves students’ summary writing ability even without any other feedback. 

Additionally, “Graham and Hebert (2010) conducted a meta-analysis of studies that investigated whether students’ writing activities had any effect on their reading abilities. As one might expect, they found a strong reciprocal relationship between reading and writing. Having students write about what they have read helps improve their reading abilities” (US Department of Education, 2012).


Further Benefits

Being able to summarize helps students pass high school equivalency tests, prepares them for post-secondary education and training, and serves employees well in the workplace.  By mastering summarizing, students can more easily navigate long reading passages in high school equivalency tests.  This also allows for students to more easily perform higher level thinking skills like compare and contrast.  In post-secondary education, papers frequently call for text summaries.  On the job, employees are routinely asked to summarize oral and written communication from customers and colleagues. 


Have you used Get the Gist?  How has it helped your students?



Perin, D. (2002). Repetition and the informational writing of developmental students. Journal of Developmental Education, 26(1), 2–18.

U.S. Department of Education, Office of Vocational and Adult Education. (2012). Just write! guide. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved from:





Thanks for posting about Get the Gist. My personal philosophy of learning leans to constructivism, whereby people create or build meaning rather than absorb it from, say, a text. It seems to me that passive learning from text, even when successful according to metrics like parroting, is bound to be inferior to active learning that occurs when the people are actually doing things. Literacy is best understood as the ability to do things with information that is obtained from reading. Isn't that is the most important metric? Reciting back what was just read is transient evidence of literacy, at best.

Hi Robert,

Thanks for your thought-provoking comment which took me some time to fully absorb.  Here are a few thoughts/questions:

1.  As people, we construct meaning from all sources around us.  Media, from both print and digital sources, is a major part of how most people construct meaning in our modern society.  As adult educators, we are charged with helping students make sense and be able to construct meaning from both print and digital media.  How are the people you are referring to "creat[ing] or build[ing] meaning"?  What sources are they using?  

2.  I am sorry if I gave the impression that Get the Gist is "parroting."  I will further explain the strategy in ongoing posts.  At the conclusion, students are constructing sentences in their own words which reflect what the author thinks/feels/believes about the subject of a writing.  It is an active and iterative process.  In effect, we are guiding students in how to make meaning from text.    

3.  "Literacy is best understood as the ability to do things with information that is obtained from reading."  This is exactly what students do at the conclusion of Get the Gist.  Students are able to understand what the author thinks/feels/believes about the topic.  They are then able to use that information to engage in higher level thinking skills like arguing, comparing and contrasting, and analyzing.  Students must first understand before they can do any of the higher level thought processes.  I see Get the Gist as a building block to the higher level literacy skills you espouse.      

Thanks again for your comment,


LINCS Reading and Writing CoP Moderator 

I couldn't agree more about the value of summary writing to improve comprehension and writing. The Get the Gist strategy is an effective part of instruction in writing summaries. Here is a link to a short piece by John Collins describing that strategy.