Thursday, March 26, 2009

Teaching the Main Idea!

Many children think that the first line of a story or essay is the main idea. To help them understand that the main idea is why you are writing the story you can tell them to “think of a story as a meal.” It starts with an appetizer whose job it is to entice the reader to continue. It’s followed by the side dishes which adds a variety of flavors to the story-the additional information to make it fuller. The main dish is the meat of the meal or the main focus, the main idea. Dessert is the final part of the meal where the story winds down to a conclusion.

What we are looking for in a main idea of a story is simply the main course of the dinner, the “meat.” A good way for children to start this process is by putting things in categories such as Things you Wear, Colors, Fruits, Vegetables, etc. Talk about how they are all clothing, food, but the broad term or main idea is that they are all vegetables, things you wear. Next, go into finding the actual main idea of stories. Start with non-fiction books, because they are much easier. Then, go into fiction stories.

Another great teaching tool to finding the main idea of a paragraph is to use the idea of a helping hand. Children can trace their own hand. The main idea goes on the palm. The topic sentence is written on the thumb. Four other details are written on the fingers. For the older students have them draw the wrist and a "bracelet" which has a summary sentence on it.

A topic sentence should set forth the main idea and purpose (implied or direct) of the paragraph. Here are a couple of games that will help children practice finding the topic sentence.


Write a paragraph that doesn't have a topic sentence and have the child guess the topic. Example: You write with them. Sometimes they have erasers on the end. You can get them in different colors. When they guess pencils, ask them if it would have been easier to start the paragraph with, "I love pencils?"


Understanding the main idea of a paragraph can be tough for beginning readers. Here's an exercise you can do to help them see the forest through the trees.
Write each topic sentence on a separate index card.

Topic: Dogs are loyal animals.
Topic: I love the summer.
Topic: Chocolate isn't good for you.

Write each detail on a separate index card.

Detail: They are always waiting for their owners to come home.
Detail: They want to sit with you.
Detail: There are a lot of fun things to do, like swimming and eating hamburgers.
Detail: We go on vacation.
Detail: Every time I eat it, I get a stomachache.
Detail: It's not good for my teeth.

Mix them all up, turn them face up, and match up a topic with two details.

Workbooks to practice finding the main idea:

“Main Ideas & Summarizing: 35 Reading Passages for Comprehension” by Linda Ward Beech
“Summarizing, Grades 1 to 2: Focusing on Main Ideas and Details” by Renee Cummings

“Teaching the main idea is useful for students in online schools too.”
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Lori said...

That was some great advice, I especially like the Topic Match up game. We will be trying that, thanks for sharing!

kathy stemke said...

Thanks for visiting Lori. Please come again.