Use Technology to Help Learners Develop Gist Reading Skills

One of the challenges I face with learners’ reading skills development is training them to read for the gist of a text, i.e. skimming. “A typical skimming task would be a general question from the teacher, such as ‘Is this passage about Jill’s memories of summer or winter?’” (Scrivener, 2005:185) Another skimming task is to ask students read the text in order to check whether they guessed correctly in a preceding prediction task.

How many times, though, haven’t you seen learners not trying to find an answer quickly? How many times do learners use their pens to follow every single word of the passage? How many times have you stopped and asked them “Will you read every word of the text? (Students answer: No), Do you care if there are any unknown words? (Students answer: No),” etc.?

For me, skimming was always a tough one to train my learners on how to do until I started using technology in my classroom. Here’re some of the things that I use with my learners:


  • (Overhead) Projector

Copy the text in a word document and project it on a wall or a whiteboard. Then, set a time limit that will allow learners to speed read the passage but not read every word of it. Sometimes, we tend to rush them more than needed which might result in them feeling unsupported and intimidated. Try to time yourself first. Students usually need double the time teachers need. If, for instance, you need one minute to do the task, give your learners two minutes to do the same task. Of course, it all depends on the length and type of the text as well as the gist task itself. When the time is up, stop projecting the text (you can turn the projector off, turn it on sleep mode, or simply close its cap).


  • Slide Presentations

This technique is particularly helpful (and relevant) to exam prep classes. Skimming tasks are typical and we find them in most language exams, e.g. IELTS, CPE, etc. So, if the text is not already broken down in shorter sections or paragraphs, break it down yourself. Then, copy each section or paragraph in a slide. Once all text has been copied to the slide presentation, adjust the settings of the presentation according to the needs of the text and the task. It would be easier for you if you make the slides progress automatically after a pre-specified amount of time. As with the previous technique, you must allow a sensible time limit for learners to gist read each section or paragraph of the passage.


  • VLE Whiteboards

Many Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs), such as Adobe Connect or WizIQ, have great whiteboard tools. What is more is that they allow you to make use of multiple whiteboards for each lesson. That said, when teaching online, one can adapt the previous techniques and use them with their online students. You can either copy a complete passage in one whiteboard and when the time limit is up, use another blank whiteboard, or you can copy parts of the text in different whiteboards and when the time limit for each part is up, you can activate the next whiteboard.


A final note on learner training: It is very common to see teachers who, due to institutional requirements and pre-designed lesson plans, tend to ignore or not focus very much on learner training. I used to be one of those teachers who couldn’t understand why my learners find it so hard to answer a multiple-choice item, for example. I kept wondering why it took them so long to do such a simple task.

However, when I started including learner training sessions in my lessons, I realised that both my and my learners’ attitude in class changed. I stopped assuming an authoritative role that kept on correcting and commenting on my learners’ difficulties and they stopped feeling being attacked and/or constantly tested on something that they didn’t know (because they weren’t taught) how to do.


Reference: Scrivener, Jim. Learning Teaching: A Guidebook for English Language Teachers. Oxford: Macmillan, 2005. Print.

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