Most teachers recognize that teaching the concept of “main idea” is very difficult. Students are not always able to determine the gist of a passage in one reading. Sometimes, the length of a passage is an issue, or whether it is fiction or nonfiction can baffle a student. As teachers, we know that teaching about the main idea of a reading selection is necessary, but how can you teach students to identify it successfully?
The main idea of a reading passage is best described as finding the gist, or identifying what the passage is mostly about. Teachers can begin teaching this concept by asking students to identify the main idea of small paragraphs first. By talking aloud with practice paragraphs, teachers can model their thinking process for students. This process is also known as guided reading practice. Teachers guide the reading and comprehension process of their students as new skills are introduced.Teachers can identify the main idea of a paragraph by underlining a sentence or phrase, and then underlining supporting ideas with double lines. As students become skilled at choosing the main idea from longer and longer paragraphs, teachers can introduce multiple-paragraph passages for students to work with.
Teachers can use direct instruction initially to get the concept across, and then transition to group work as students become skilled at choosing the main idea. One strategy teachers can utilize is to have students use sticky notes to record three to five key details of the paragraph or the passage. This can be done during independent time and discussed in small groups or when the class comes together as a whole. Teachers can assist students by creating an anchor of learning that could remind them of the important questions such as, “What is this passage mostly about?” or “What important overall idea is the author writing about?” In this way, students can become stronger at independently monitoring their comprehension, while the teacher is free to assist other students.The main idea lesson plans listed below can help teachers implement this strategy.
Main Idea Lesson Plans:
What Is The Main Idea?: In this lesson, students in grades kindergarten through second begin to identify the main idea of a story they read or hear. Students use graphic organizers to discover the main idea of "The Carrot Seed", by Ruth Krauss, and "Marsupial Sue" by John Lithgow,
Sum It Up !!: Students in grades three through five will enjoy the challenge of reading "The Watson's Go To Birmingham" while trying to identify the main idea of this popular chapter book.
Main Idea and Details: In this lesson, middle school students use a selected text to practice identifying the main idea.
Where's My Funny Paper?: This lesson plan is written for high school students and focuses on choosing the main idea of selected texts.