When I teach one of reading’s key concepts, finding the main idea using informational text, I like to start off the unit with something really fun…kind of like how I sometimes eat my dessert first and dinner afterward…It just makes good sense to hook the kids into whatever concept you’re teaching by making it fun!
1. Main Idea Bags
The first thing we do after explaining what the main idea is, “what the text is mostly about”, is to do Main Idea Activity Bags. You can do these one of three ways, depending upon the time you have.
One way is to write/type words on cards that go together and place each set in a bag. For example, you might write dog collar, leash, bone, chew toy, and doggie shampoo on cards. Students open these bags in pairs and try to figure out the main idea. In this case, the main idea would be “taking care of your dog”.
The second way to prepare the bags is to print pictures of items for bags. By gluing them to construction paper or card-stock and laminating them, these will last for several years. My main idea units come with pictures already prepared to save time.
One example of using picture cards would be if we had pictures of a sand bucket, plastic shovel, shells, sunscreen and a child’s swimsuit, Hopefully, students would guess “playing at the beach” for the main idea.
Finally, the most ambitious way to prepare the bags is to gather actual items. If you have extra time, you could even gather some real items. The kids would really enjoy pulling out actual items to determine the main idea.
2. Picture Book Biographies
Picture book biographies are the next thing I like to do as a class. There are so many good ones, it’s hard to choose. One of the series I really love is the Who was ______?, by Grosset and Dunlap Publishers, although there are millions of others too.
After reading a short biography, we brainstorm the main idea of the text. Why exactly was this person important? What was his/her main accomplishment? We discuss supporting details for our answers as we go and we talk about how the title, the pictures, the first and last sentence of the book and the repeating words or phrases can sometimes lead us to the main idea.
3. Task Cards
The next activity I like to do involves task cards…I am crazy about these things! I think task cards are such a versatile tool for kids to use in the classroom.
I like to use them in small groups or keep them on my desk so we can do a few together during transition times when we have a few spare minutes.
My favorite way to use them is to spread them around the room and have kids work in pairs to figure them out and record their answers. Getting up and moving is so good for kids and helps them focus in the long run.
One of the things I really like about these main idea task cards is that they have short informational text passages about things that kids enjoy, such as the invention of the potato chip or how the slinky was created by accident. These offbeat, kid-friendly topics make kids want to read the information and that’s half the battle for any type of reading.
4. Independent Work Time
After doing so many main idea activities, it’s time to kick the birds out of the nest a bit. I give my students different types of worksheets that I have created and let them have at it! We correct together (each child correcting his/her own) so we can steer those kids who need it and so all of the kids get pretty immediate feedback about how they’re doing. I save one or two to use as an end of the unit, main idea assessment.
In addition to the activities and worksheets, I have a number of graphic organizers that I like to use. These are great because they can target the main idea concept using any piece of informational text that we’re reading. Sometimes our basal reader has a good story using informational text, like space or Native Americans and this is an excellent place for me to incorporate the graphic organizers there.
If you’re looking for time-saving resources, you might want to take a look at these, Both of them come in print and digital.
Want to go paperless? These digital reading units for Main Idea can be completed using Google Slides or PowerPoint. They’re super interactive and have high-interest topics.
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