Overcoming the Main Idea - Lucky Little Learners

Overcoming the Main Idea

Blog Posts, Comprehension, ELA

Written by: Jordan McKinney

Main idea is a key standard when it comes to learning in school. However, for how important the skill is, it can leave some of us teachers feeling overwhelmed on where to begin to make sure our students understand what exactly the main idea is and how to find it. 

From steps to make a clear pathway to the answer for your students, to strategies on how to make the main idea a fun skill to learn, we have you covered! 

For more fun strategies and activities click here Main Idea and Key Details.

How to teach kids to look for the main idea in a text

When it comes to the main idea it can be a little daunting figuring out how to best prepare your students for success. However, the best place to start is the beginning and work through the following steps!

  1. Read the Title 
  2. Have your students underline or highlight the first sentence in each paragraph. This is great for paragraph identification as well!
  3. Take a minute and have your students search for repeated words and phrases. This can take a minute and can be helpful if they even circle these as well to refer back to!
  4. Sit back and ask, “why did the author write this text?” This is a step to practice together in guided reading or whole group instruction as it can take time to perfect.

Remember that practice makes perfect and that these steps are here to help your students who feel a bit lost in the text know how to find their way to the answer!

Strategies to practice looking for the main idea

The main idea is something that you can teach many times, and yet there will be those students that need a bit more practice. Throwing in a few strategies in your lessons can bring the main idea from a skill to be learned to fun to be had!

1. Does It Belong Game?

This a great game to add to your story of the week or after a fun read-aloud! Recite details from the story (sentence strips are an added bonus) and have your students determine if that detail is from the story or not. To make this extra special and fun (because we know students love using anything that isn’t them raising their hand) use a pancake flipper from the Dollar Tree! On one side write a D to represent detail and on the other write ND for not a detail. As you call out these details they can answer with their trusty paddles! These are great to have on hand for an extra main idea practice at a moment’s notice.

2. Get Colorful

Students love the opportunity to pull out their favorite highlighters, and it can be even more exciting when you use more than one color! Have your students use their highlighter to highlight the first sentence of the paragraph. Then have them take three other colors to highlight key details. You can even do this with our second grade reading passages.

For example, in a small group setting have your students compare their highlighted sentences to see if they picked similar ones. Then have each student explain why they picked one of their details. Then as a group work together to fill out one of their recording sheets, the student anchor charts are a fun and engaging sheet that goes beyond just 1,2,3! 

You can find these student anchor charts here.

3. Video Clips

Practice doesn’t have to be just text and this practice is especially great for remote learners! Pixar has a variety of adorable shorts that range from 4-6 minutes. Have your students watch the clips and determine what they believe the main idea of the video was about and 3 details that support this that they saw in the video. They can even use the student anchor chart to record their answers while they watch. This not only uses the main idea but throws in some inference practice as well! This can be wonderful for students who are visual learners.

Suggestions for Video Clips

4. Main Idea Hunt

Another way to practice the this concept that involves various read-alouds is a main idea hunt! If you can tie it into a theme for the week even better! Pick a book a day to read aloud with your students. Around the carpet have multiple sentence strips, some with that day’s details. Some details can be for books that you’ll read later in the week. After the story is over, determine the main idea together, turn and talk would be a great addition. Afterward, have students work to find the key details from the pile. This can also be done on a smaller scale at their desk independently. A common theme can make this more difficult as they cannot rely only on keywords.

A great example could be a week such as Camp Read-A-Lot where you can search for the main idea in a plethora for camping themed books!

You can learn more about Camp Read-A-Lot here! If you’re looking for ways to adapt Camp Read-A-Lot to social distancing guidelines, here’s how to do it!

main idea hunt

5. Main Idea Toothy Kit

If you’ve not had a chance to dive into a Toothy kit yet this may be the perfect first experience. 

main idea game

With 12 passages and 84 questions all having to do with the main idea and key details this Toothy activity is great to add into your centers as practice either independently or with a partner. You can feel confident after this games complete your student will have had plenty of fantastic practice in this standard. 

You can find this activity right here: Main Idea and Key Details Toothy

Main idea no longer needs to be a main pain when it comes in the classroom. A few strategies, a plan, and some fun can make learning the main idea a main source of fun in your classroom!

Do you still have some questions about teaching main idea? We have just the post for you here!


Main Idea & Details Passages

Main Idea & Key Details Task Cards

Main Idea & Details Activity Bundle

main idea strategies


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Welcome, I’m Angie!

Hello there! I’m Angie Olson- a teacher, curriculum developer, educational blogger and owner of Lucky Little Learners.

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