It may seem silly to read about ideas to help you teach main idea! It seems like such a simple… well… idea! But, even though the main idea of a text is the most central and important underlying idea, it can often be difficult for young students to recognize. Most main idea practice is just that – practice. Many textbook worksheets have students read a passage and identify the main idea, without telling them how to do this or why this is important! When you teach main idea with a few different approaches, including the ones listed below, you will help your third, fourth, and fifth graders to better understand the main idea and how to find it.
A Successful Strategy for Teaching Main Idea
Since understanding is not often taught alongside main idea recognition, it can often be misinterpreted. Abstract ideas are much harder to identify than those that are explicitly stated. And, it’s much easier to identify the main idea in a short, simple passage than it is to deconstruct a large passage and scour for the central idea.
1. Start Simple: Begin with short and simple texts that are easy to understand and have explicitly-stated main ideas. Guide students to recognition with leading questions.
2. Summarize First: Reinforce summarizing skills by teaching kids to browse for key words and identify explicitly-stated main ideas.
3. Filter Out the Extra: Have students weed out sentences that do not support the general topic. Look at what’s left to find the main idea and supporting details.
4. Read Between the Lines: Once students are more comfortable with finding explicit main ideas, they can start to use inference and summary skills to look for key words and filter out sentences that do not support the main idea, leaving them with the most important part.
5. Challenge Students with Variety: By introducing harder, longer texts, non-fiction vs. fiction passages, and differing topics, students will improve their confidence and skills.
How to Teach Main Idea in Your Elementary Classroom
Once you’ve mastered the basics, practice is key. There are so many different activities to help you teach main idea! Some activities and worksheets help students to understand and recognize the main idea of a story or text, while other activities help students to practice the skill. Try to incorporate many exercises in your classroom when you teach main idea to appeal to all learning styles and levels.
Main Idea Graphic Organizers
Use an informational organizer like a flow chart or spider map to encourage students to differentiate between the main idea and supporting ideas. Differentiate this activity by providing a word bank/matching type activity for students who need a bit more practice, and having other students write out the answers.
After you teach main idea, allow your students to go ‘highlighter happy’ on an informational text for practice. Provide photocopies so students may mark directly on the pages, and pass out different colored highlighters. Students can pick out the main idea and supporting ideas, highlighting them different colors to contrast.
Bonus! Have students try the Highlighter Happy exercise with a couple different passages and then look for patterns or similarities. Students may recognize that the main idea is often found at the beginning of the passage, but not always!
Cut & Sort
Pass out photocopies of informational texts along with a pair of scissors to each student. Encourage students to cut each sentence from the photocopy and sort it into the main idea or supporting idea pile.
Optional: Students can glue these to labeled big paper or poster board so the class can check for accuracy!
Main Idea Inference
Display a short informational text on the whiteboard, SmartBoard or projector. Show students the story’s images, title, and other contextual clues. Have students work together, in pairs or as a class, to infer the main idea from the clues.
Main Idea Task Cards
Use the Main Idea Task Cards set to encourage students to recognize and infer the main idea. Students can complete the multiple choice answer sheet or can record their answers by writing the main idea. You can further differentiate this activity by using a set of cards that begin with the main idea or a set of cards that does not explicitly state the idea, requiring students to make inferences.
Help students to understand main idea and why it is important, recognize the main idea and supporting details in a text passage, and infer the main idea when it is not explicitly stated with these 5 main idea exercises. By using these 5 Main Ideas to Teach Main Idea in Elementary, you can better prepare your students for success by not only teaching main idea, but ensuring that they practice the skill until they are confident in their ability to recognize main ideas! Use exercises for differentiated learning to ensure that all of your students succeed. You can even give one-to-one a shot with the Boom Learning task cards!