By far, one of the hardest skills to teach is main idea. Not only is main idea pretty difficult for some (most) students, but it is also so critical for understanding nonfiction text. So many other nonfiction skills are also dependent on understanding that main idea. Keeping this in mind, I tackle main idea three different ways in an attempt to help all of my students master this tricky skill.
*Before you look at these anchor charts a little warning: I make all of my charts with my kids. I only have the mini lesson statement written before hand and maybe some other items. With that being said, they are not super cute or even neat (haha) but they are practical and serve their purpose. 😀
Main Idea Strategy #1: Using Key Words
We started reading a high interest article from Zoobooks about Owls that was projected onto the smartboard the first day. For the first lesson, I wanted the focus to be on key words and using those key words to determine the main idea. Here is our chart:
Main Idea Strategy #2: What To Do When You Have Choices
After reading the section and discussing with our partners what we thought the author was trying to tell us with the information, we looked at our choices. We read each choice and went back to the section to determine if it was the main idea. We used our “Sentence Check” from the previous lesson to justify our answers. It was really great hearing the kids say things like, “That is just a detail and the other sentences don’t really talk about that.” Or “That sentence is an opinion and doesn’t match the details in the paragraph.” We chose our answer based on the fact that all of our sentences supported that idea.
Main Idea Strategy #3: What are the details or examples showing you?
For this mini lesson, we moved away from our article and used a nonfiction mentor text on sharks. I chose this book because it contained great examples through the text and the illustrations. For this lesson I wanted to explore text that didn’t really have key words, but instead used details and examples to illustrate the main idea.
Before reading the shark mentor text, we looked at a quick example that I had written on chart paper. We read it aloud and discussed with a partner what the author was trying to show us through the details provided. Since this was a familiar topic, most of them were really quick to notice that the details were showing that the inner planets are different from the outer planets.
We discussed how the main idea was not stated or even shown through key words. Instead, the reader used the examples and the details to show the reader the main idea.
After discussing this and doing a another turn and talk discussion with our partners, we read a few pages from the mentor text mentioned above. We did several main idea sentences together using the book and then I chose a page for them to complete on their own. They were given a post it note where they had to determine the main idea. It was really interesting because some of them let the examples guide them and some of them even chose to use key words to help them from our previous lessons. They posted their responses on our chart. I was in a hurry Friday to get the pictures and am so bummed that I didn’t get close up pictures. 🙁
Next week, we move on to summarizing nonfiction text. I hope to be able to refer to these lessons to guide that instruction as well. While I am teaching summarizing, I will have the students apply these main idea strategies to passages during their reading centers. I use passages from my Main Idea unit. These passages are perfect because each paragraph has a specific main idea.
How do you teach main idea of nonfiction text? I am always looking for more strategies to share with my students.