Teaching Main idea and details can be a very tricky concept for students to master. To assume this can be taught through cute graphic organizers would be very ineffective. Scaffolded instruction is the key. Here are some ideas to accomplish student mastery.
Introducing Main Idea
When teaching main idea and key details to students, it’s important to with the basics. This can be accomplished with a simple anchor chart, a read aloud, or even an instructional video.
Watch Main Idea & Details Tips
Anchor charts can get as fancy or as plain as you’d like. The main point is that the students are learning about the information through the visuals and text on the poster. Anchor charts are done with the students. Personally, I create the images at home and laminate the poster first. Then, the students help me fill in the information with either post it notes or dry erase marker.
My favorite way to go through an anchor chart with students would be to give them a student copy to complete as I am up front doing the whole class anchor chart. Below you will see a variety of student anchor chart templates (graphic organizers) that could be used with your students.
A read aloud can be one of the most overlooked strategies that can be used to teach main idea and supporting details. When performing a read aloud with your students, modeling your thinking process out loud is key! Start by covering up the title of the book and encourage the students to look at the cover. Discuss what they see. Then ask the students for suggestions as to what they think would be a good title of the book and don’t forget to ask them WHY they chose that answer! Here are some of my favorite read alouds that do a nice job of showcasing main idea and key details.
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- Wemberly Worried
- A Bad Case of the Stripes
- The Important Book
- Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon
- The One, The Only Magnificent Me
- A Chair for My Mother
- Officer Buckle and Gloria
- The Dot
A quick instructional video can be another fun way to get your students thinking and learning about new concepts. Here is a collection of my favorite videos that I use to teach main idea and details.
How to Find the Main Idea
Determining Main Idea
The Ultimate Main Idea Song
After students have been exposed to a general overview explanation of main idea and key details, it’s time to move on to the application and practice. When starting this skill, start small! I don’t give students books to start this at all. Start with object and pictures.
One of our favorite activities when learning about main idea and key details is Mystery Bags. There are two ways to use Mystery Bags.
What Doesn’t Belong
Place four items inside of a paper bag. Three of the items will go together such as a toothbrush, floss, and toothpaste. The fourth item would be something that does not belong such as a comb. Students will look inside of each bag and determine which item does not belong and will write why that item does not belong with the other items.
Main Idea Mystery Bag
Place three items inside of a paper bag. Make sure the three items will go together such as cupcake liners, a spoon, and a bowl. Students will identify the three items and determine the main idea of the three items within the bag. Modeling this activity is essential because it will provide the students with the thought process behind arriving to a main idea. The modeling of your thinking is key! This is where the initial learning will take place!
Mystery Bag Ideas
Variation: What DOESN’T belong
Another introductory idea would be to show students photos. Photos can be found on Kiddle, Kids Discover, or National Geographic for Kids. Find a photo the students would find interesting. Have students take turns giving the photo a title as if it was the front cover a book. Allow for discussion and ask questions such as, “Why do you feel this is a good title?” or “What made you choose this title?” or “What part of the photo stood out to you the most?” This process is valuable and essential.
Word sorts are a nice way to scaffold the students’ practice towards mastering main idea and details. Students are given a collection of words. They need to sort the words into three groups and give each group of words a title that will provide the concept of the main idea of the group. I love doing this activity in a small group setting because the conversation that takes place during this activity is so beneficial!
The next step in the scaffold process would be providing the students with a main idea and details and asking them to determine which detail does not belong. This can be achieved through the use of visuals that can be displayed on the smartboard or printed and shown. For this activity, the class would read the main idea and four details. Then, the students choose the one detail that doesn’t fit and either write the answer on a markerboard or a recording sheet. Again, conversation that discusses why the detail doesn’t belong with each example is important!
What’s the Main Idea
Taking this concept a step further would be to give the students the three key details and having them figure out what the main idea would be. Similar to the previous activity, the visuals can be displayed on the smartboard or printed and shown. The students can write the main idea on a marker board or a recording sheet. Keep in mind that the main idea answers will vary.
Main Idea and Detail Paragraphs
Continuing to scaffold is still important. Move from a set of sentences to a paragraph. Like the previous steps, start with modeling. Show your students how to read through the paragraph while demonstrating how to find the main idea and key details of the paragraph. Model the thinking of why and how the details support the main idea. This particular activity is perfect because it includes both fiction and nonfiction options and is self-correcting as the answers are on the back of each paragraph card.