Main idea and supporting details are often extremely difficult for students to identify and understand. Over the years, I’ve learned that my main idea and supporting details instruction needs to be highly scaffolded in order for my students to grasp this tricky skill. All of these lessons are included in my Reading Unit 2, but I hope that you find these ideas valuable with or without the unit.
Main Idea – Day 1
I introduce the idea of main idea and supporting details with an anchor chart.
I like to use the BrainPop Main Idea movie to reinforce the idea of main idea. After the movie, we continue to discuss main idea. I then show students how to complete a Main Idea Web. In one version, the main idea is filled in. Ex: exercise is important for your health. I model how to fill in supporting details for the main idea. Then, I reverse the lesson. I fill in supporting details on the Main Idea web and have students determine the main idea from the details.
This helps students focus their thoughts on main idea and supporting details. This graphic organizer is also great for writing workshop.
Main Idea – Day 2
As you teach main idea, you’ll notice that the lessons tie in perfectly with your writing lessons. For example, in the second lesson students eliminate extraneous information. I explain that if there are details in the paragraph that don’t support the main idea, those details are in the wrong place. I have students practice finding extraneous information in a paragraph, which allows them to think about the relationship between supporting details and main idea.
Main Idea – Day 3
Before having students identify the main idea in whole books or large passages, I start with short pieces of texts. In fact, many texts and longer passages have multiple main ideas or sections, and that can be overwhelming for students. I like to start small and work our way up.
This will likely not be a one and done lesson. I’ve provided a variety of practice pages in this same format, which will allow you to give students additional support and practice as needed. If you don’t feel like your students are ready to move to the next lesson, it’s perfectly fine to keep them here for a couple extra days.
Main Idea – Day 4
Sometimes it can be a bit tricky to find the main idea in a long text. Most longer texts do have more than one main idea. I explain to students when they find the main idea or ideas of a passage, it’s often beneficial to look at each paragraph, because good writers organize similar information into paragraphs. To illustrate this, I provide students with a reading passage with clear main ideas in each paragraph. Students then find the main idea and supporting details in each paragraph.
Once again, students may need to camp out on this lesson for a bit. I don’t like to move forward until I feel like my students have a solid understanding of multiple main ideas. At this point in the year, I don’t require students to identify the main idea in entire nonfiction books, because there are times when the main idea isn’t quite clear.
Main Idea – Day 5
I like to conclude these lessons by changing students role from reader to author. I have students complete a main idea graphic organizer. You may either let students choose their own topic, or you may assign a topic. Then, students write a paragraph about that topic that has a CLEAR main idea. You can download the graphic organizer for free here!
I hope you were able to find some new ideas for teaching main idea and supporting details! With the right amount of scaffolding and practice, students can grasp this challenging skill.