Determining the main idea, is a skill that some students acquire much easier than other students. It can also be a challenging skill to introduce to students and support them to successfully grasp.
I did a MAJOR revision of a paid-for resource and created a 50+ page free download (available at the end of this post) to support the development and practice of determining the main idea of a text.
Before I get to sharing all of the activities in the free download, I wanted to share with you an overview of a lesson I did for an observation on main idea. This was not the first time my second graders were introduced to main idea. Main idea is introduced in first grade for most of them, so the focus of my lesson was not only to strengthen their understanding of main idea but the importance of strong supporting details and how to determine them.
I wanted to give my students a real life example showing the relationship of the main idea and supporting details. We had recently read a Scholastic News on reindeer which gave me the idea of a young deer walking for the first time. I thought this would be a great motivator at the beginning of the lesson. I showed students a video from YouTube (just search baby deer first steps) and asked them to describe to me what they saw. Students shared that the baby deer’s legs weren’t strong enough, the baby deer didn’t understand which muscles to use to make them move, etc. This was exactly what I was looking for 🙂 I shared with students that just like the baby deer needed to have the strength to move his legs and lift his body, that in order for a main idea to be the main idea it must have strong supporting details.
After we read the text, which I am unable to share on here because of copyright, we then were going to work to determine the main idea and supporting details. For this blog post, I am utilizing a text from my Winter Main Idea Practice Pack pictured below.
We read the text together and then I had the students buddy read. As they read I gave them supplies so that they could build the main idea and supporting details just like the deer example we discussed at the beginning. I gave each pair of students 4 Jenga blocks and strips of paper (tape was available).
After students worked with their buddy, we came together as a group to work on an anchor chart together to see how everyone did. I sketched the reindeer on big chart paper. But if you want to use this example and don’t want to draw the reindeer, I have included a chart you could use digitally or display using a projector and write on.
The Levels of Main Idea Thinking
James Baumann, David Pearson, and Dale Johnson wrote about the levels of main idea thinking and shared their own tweaks on the idea. I have created resources to support each level. According to Baumann, Pearson, and Johnson main idea can be taught using the following steps or levels.
With our youngest students, or those students that struggle with the concept of main idea, teachers can begin with the first level – realizing a thought that runs through sentences and links them together. Many of our learners are very visual, and/or hands-on, and benefit from concrete examples. I want to share with you something I used to do with my 2nd grade students.
Materials needed: string, clothespins, index cards (or cards from free download)
For this model, you can utilize some of the object cards provided in the free download at the bottom of this post, or you can jot down words on index cards. Pick one card to pin up to the string and ask students what else can be included on this string? Only items that share a common idea or theme may go on. If necessary, start with an example- hang up a few different animals. Share with students – these can all hang on the same string because they are animals. Let’s try another one. Ask a student to give you an object. Jot it down and hang it up. Have students brainstorm other things that could hang with that object.
To continue in the Level 1 phase, you can utilize a section of the 50+ page free download available at the bottom of this post.
Categorize it (Level 1)
Print out the 8 cards that are included and laminate them. You can use these in small groups, students can work on them independently at a center or even with a classmate.
Students are tasked with reading a list of items and deciding what the could categorize those items as. If the cards are laminated, they can simply use a dry erase marker.
Shrink the Sentence (Level 2)
Challenge your students with reducing a long sentence to its’ basic idea, or main idea. These sentence cards are included in the free download at the end of this post. Laminate the cards so that students can simply cross off the “extra words” with a dry erase marker. You could also have students just write the simplified sentence on dry erase boards, chalkboards, or in a notebook.
Stepping Stones to Level 3
Three activities are provided in the free download that I feel are stepping stones to level 3 of main idea thinking. The first is Guess the Main Idea.
7 sets of main idea cards are included and I have given each set a different border for easy organization and implementation. There are a few different ways that you could utilize these resources.
- Only allow the student or group of students working on a bag to pull one picture out at a time. Each time a picture is drawn have them guess the main idea and record. Students will see how their guess for the main idea will change and develop as they have more “supporting details.”
- Have the class look at the objects together and then break off in groups to guess the main idea based on the objects pictured in the bag. Have the students write the main idea their group develops and then defend it to the rest of the class. Have the class vote for the best main idea.
- Have a student or group of students work to determine the main idea and draw what that would look like.
Multiple recording sheet options are provided with this activity so that you can choose what will work best for your students or groups of students!
The next activity challenges students with determining the main idea and supporting details of familiar objects or people. 6 options are provided which include determining the main idea of a pet, friend, family member, principal, telephone, and an object of your choice!
The final activity that I feel is a stepping stone to level 3 is practicing determining the main idea from a character and scene card. In the free download, character and scene photo cards are provided. I recommend laminating these so you can continue to reuse them.
These cards could be utilized in small group. You could select a scene and character photo card and discuss what the main idea could be if these two photos were combined. Students can practice inferring what the main idea would be.
You could also display a set of cards for the entire class and have them work to develop what the main could be.
Lastly, you could provide these as a center or early finisher activity. Students could select their own cards and infer the main idea.
A story organizer and story activity sheet have been included in case you wanted students to develop a story based around the main idea they inferred based on the scene and character photo cards.
Level 3 and 4
Level 3 and 4 activities are included in my revised Winter Main Idea Practice Pack. This pack provides 10 passages, one fiction and one nonfiction for each topic. These passages provide practice for students with some providing a topic sentence and some not providing a topic sentence.
Each passage is provided in color and black in white.
One of the new additions to this resource is stacked questions. These part A/part B questions are being used in many tests administered across grade levels. I refer to them as stacked questions for as easy way for students to understand their relationship. These questions are provided for each passage on a colored full-page version and also on a printable student version.
You will find that in this resource there are many options provided which will allow for easy differentiation for your students. I have provided colored main idea choice cards for each passage. These would be best utilized if working with a small group and discussing the options. Or you could use these if you set up this activity as a center.
Student printable pages are included. They all provide the passage but then you have a choice of activities. The first option has the passage and multiple choice main idea.
The next option has the passage, stacked questions, multiple choice main idea, and writing a new title with support.
The last option has the passage, stacked questions, multiple choice main idea, and supporting details.
In addition, three recording sheets are provided to give more options for your students.
See this resource in my TPT Shop by clicking below!
Interested in the 50+ page free download?