Close Reading and “Gist” Statements: What’s Important Here?

Giving the “gist” of complicated matters is not always easy.

I worked with Jillian Walters this week to do a close reading on an article about Treacher Collins Syndrome to provide a context for students to better understand the character of Auggie in the book Wonder which students are reading for their English classes.  The article dealt with scientific information about the disease including its symptoms, causes and treatments, and the first stage of the reading consisted of the “gist” statement.

To begin, we had students highlight the “important things” in the text before working in pairs to write a statement together.

One of the things we noted as students were working was the variety of highlighting methods.  While some students highlighted almost everything, others only had a few things underlined.  Then, as they worked in pairs, we also noticed there was some variety in the information included in the one sentence statements.  Here are examples they created:


This lead to a conversation with students about how to choose what is important from the text.  Walters asked students to share how they decided what to highlight and made this list on the board.


We also discussed text features that might have led students to recognize important elements (such as titles and bulleted lists).

Students then came and wrote their “gist” sentences on the board.  The end goal in doing this was to look at the commonalities and differences.  In the other classes, we used these to build a common “gist statement” together based on evidence in some of the text features.

This entire process and the reading took about thirty minutes.  We had yet to even begin the vocabulary and question readings.

This brings me to a point about close reading: it takes time.  However, the long-term benefits in thinking are worth it.  Students learn comprehension skills, determine how to make meaning from complicated texts, examine vocabulary in context and answer worthwhile questions.

Here are the resources used in the lesson:

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