Here's a sure-fire video you will love for teaching main idea. There's also a framework and worksheets for teaching this essential skill from the ground up.
Getting the main idea of a story or text is often a terribly difficult skill for students.
It is very hard for some children to recognize if the point of the text is being explicitly stated or inferred. Inferencing is a higher-order skill that must be explicitly taught. So what do we do about it?
It is one of the most common and necessary "survival strategies" all people need.
Initially your students will need a lot of support and scaffolding while learning how to find the main idea. Then you will need to provide collaborative activities so children have to verbalize their thinking (the relationship between oral talk and meta-cognition is proven).
Gradually move the students towards independent activities when you are confident they will experience success.
Teaching main idea follows a specific sequence:
Suggested Framework for Teaching: How to Find the Main Idea
1. Identifying the key words of a sentence
2. Identifying key words or topic of a paragraph
3. Identifying the topic sentence of a paragraph
4. Recognizing the explicitly stated point of a paragraph
5. Inferring the main idea of a paragraph
6. Recognize relationships among ideas in related paragraphs in longer selections
7. Inferring relationships among ideas in related paragraphs in longer selections
ERIC Clearing House; Dishner, Ernest K
Identify Key Words
This is very literal comprehension. Use a small, sample sentence to identify key words.
The small dog was frightened by the big, bad wolf.
In this example, the question, "What is the sentence about?" is
that it is about a small dog. What about that small dog? It is
frightened by the wolf. While this seems very simple, many students who
cannot grasp the concept of a main idea need this step and cannot move
on without it. Mastery at the sentence level is essential.
Once mastery at the sentence level is shown, move on to
identifying key words of a paragraph. Do not put the words into a
sentence yet. Just highlight important words and discuss what they mean
within the paragraph.
Explicitly Stated Main Idea
In the primary grades, these are the two points students are generally expected to master. The main idea, or topic, is still explicitly stated. Teach the students to ask, "What does the author say?" and, "Why does he say it?"
Be sure your students are familiar with paragraph structure before teaching the procedures to identify the main idea.
Either read a paragraph out-loud or direct them to read it carefully. Then:
The beauty of this is that it is teaching the students to
monitor their own comprehension. You are also teaching that the main
idea can be found anywhere within a paragraph, not just at the
This is actually quite similar to steps 3 & 4, except that now the students will need to match their "own words" main idea with an implied one from the text - inferencing. Continue using the same four steps but at higher levels of thinking.
Inferencing is the critical step towards mastering reading comprehension. Along with fluency, it is an excellent predictor of future reading success.
If you are looking for some teaching main idea worksheets that are ready to use right now in your classroom, download a free copy below! You're going to love how easy these are.
These 14 reading worksheets are main idea lesson plans in an easy to use format.
Students start with locating sentences that go with specific details. Next, they write the main idea as a question for a variety of reading comprehension paragraphs.
Take a bite out of the apple
After that they locate the main idea of a paragraph structure through inferencing.
Finally, your students will be writing a paragraph using given details
while constructing their own main idea, or topic, sentence.
Perfect for the essential reading comprehension skill of how to find the main idea! Click on the apple to get your free copy.