Monday, March 17, 2014

The Importance of Main Idea

The main idea is what the text, story, book, or presentation is all about. When you are all done with the text, story, book, or presentation you should be able to walk away from it and tell someone what you just read or listened to with one sentence, “The books was about ________________”. Giving more information to explain the main idea are the details that support your thinking and the author’s intent. 

Without a main idea present the story or text is just a bunch of words with no real meaning or intention behind them. For example, a story about a little bear at school being mean to the other animals has the main idea of bullying but without that main idea the story is just about the aggressive things bears do.

The main idea is supported by the details. Taking the above example, the colorful illustrations in that book would help show how the bear is being a bully. The text that tells what the bear does and how the other animals feel about the bear also supports the idea of bullying.

We as adults usually have the main idea given to us before we do any sort of reading. When we go to the bookstore in search of a new book, we read the synopsis on the back which is wrapped around the main idea. When we sign up and go to presentations we are told what the class is going to be about before we sign up so we can decided if it is something we truly want to spend our money or our time on. With most articles the main idea is stated in the title of the piece. It is very rare for us to get finished reading something to then have to think about what it was all about.

Our students on the other hand are asked to find the main idea all the time. This is important for them to learn how to do this, so when the main idea is not specifically stated they have the tools and knowledge needed to figure it out.

To help students find the main idea there are 4 things they can do or use to help sort out their thinking.
  • Look at the title
  • Read the first sentence or first paragraph
  • Read the last sentence or last paragraph
  • Look for repeating words, phrases or ideas

This is how it works.

If the text, story, book, chapter or presentation has a title you are looking at the main idea. However, it more than likely is not the whole idea. For example, if the text is titled Mount Rushmore we know it is going to be about Mount Rushmore, but it could be anything about it: when it was made, who made it, a great vacation destination, where it is, etc. We cannot just say the text is mostly about Mount Rushmore and be done. We must look further to properly identify the whole main idea. If the text, story or chapter does not have a title, then you will have to look elsewhere.

For reading the first and or last sentence and or paragraph I refer to their own writing. We talk about that first and last paragraph and what they are called. We also talk about what they are doing when they write those paragraphs. It is amazing to me how many kids know that the first paragraph is called the introduction but do not know what introduction actually means (I work with many ELL students).  We also talk about the conclusion or closing and what is included in that. With this they start to see that the idea for their writing is introduced in the beginning and restated at the end and that most (but of course not all) authors do the same thing. As with the title, these two paragraphs may only state the general idea and not the specific idea (the who, what, how, where, why, etc.).

Looking for the repeating words, phrases and ideas is where we really focus in on the specific main idea. To do this, students look for a word or phrase that is repeated a lot (with some kids you need to be very specific about the kind of words you are looking for to be repeated, they will say the most repeated word is “the”). Usually (in the more technical pieces) the main idea is the word that is repeated the most. Once we establish this, I create a web around this word, phrase or idea with the other repeated words, phrases or ideas around it.

At this point it is also important to clarify that these repeated words, phrases and or ideas don’t necessarily have to be the same word, they can be synonyms for, variations of and or ideas that are repeated. For example, if the text is about almanacs some of the repeating words, phrases and ideas might be: reference book, book, information, years, specific years, events, statistics, tally marks, etc. Once we put all of these repeating ideas, words, and phrases around our main idea or most repeated word, we can then focus in on the specific main idea; with all of this information what does the author want us to know? We can then use this information to write our main idea and the rest of the info around the web then becomes our detail information.

You can see that we compared our main idea statement to the web and checked off the words that we are in both.
Here is the information all together for my students to refer to if needed. I also had them put this in their notebook for easy reference as well.
Once the web is complete you can have student show the main idea and list details in a variety of ways.
  • in a paragraph
  • in a circle map
  • in a tree map
  • in the depth and complexity big idea organizer
  • in a brace map – main idea{details{sub-details

Here are a few academic vocabulary words that your students should be familiar with.
  • mostly about 
  • mainly 
  • main idea
  • main reason
  • supporting
  • detail
  • topic sentence
  • heading
  • title
  • according to
  • infer
  • conclude
  • tells
  • text
  • introduction
  • conclusion

Here is a list of typical main idea questions one might find on a test or comprehension paper.
  • What is the text mostly/mainly about?
  • Pages ____ and _____ are mostly/mainly about ______?
  • Is the text mostly about _____ or ______?
  • What is the main reason …?
  • What are the two main reasons that ____?
  • Another title for this text could be ______.
  • The title is _____. What could another title be?
  • Why is the story called ____? Why is the text titled ____?
  • This text explains three (two, etc.) main ideas. Main idea number 1 is (give the main idea), idea number 2 is (give idea) and the third is what?
  • Which picture or page shows the main idea of the text?
  • What picture or page shows the details that support the main idea?
  • What is the main idea of this text?
  • What are some details to support the main idea?
  • Which of these is the main idea?
  • Which of these is the main idea and not a detail _______ or _______?
  • What is the main problem in the story?
  • What is/ are the character(s) doing?
  • What is the most important event or idea in the text?
  • Paragraph ____ tells mostly/mainly about _____.
  • What information in the text can you use to help you find the main idea?
  • What does the first sentence or paragraph or introduction tell you?
  • What does the last sentence or paragraph or conclusion tell you?
  • For nonfiction – The author is mainly focusing on ________ (the topic). Looking for the purpose in the blank, describing, informing, how to, persuading.
  • The author uses _____ paragraph to tell the reader ______.
  • Which book could someone read to learn about _____. Listing book title.
  • The information from paragraph _____ supports the idea that _____.

When students are answering question or talking about the main idea and the supporting details, here are some of the linguistic patterns or sentences that they should be using.
  • I can tell the main idea of this page/ paragraph is _____.
  • The main idea is …
  • The text is mostly about …
  • A supporting detail is… or The supporting details are _____ and _____.
  •  _____ and ______ are details that support the main idea.
  • The most important point/event/idea is…
  • A detail that supports this point/event/idea is…
  • One important detail from the text is…
  • The main idea is ______ and a detail is ______.
  •  _____ solved his/her problem by _____.
  • The main idea of paragraph/page _____ is _____.
  • I can tell from the heading/title that the main idea is _____.
  • According to the main idea, another title for this text could be _____.
  • In this nonfiction text, the author mainly ______ (describes, informs, persuades, tells how to).
  • The ______ page/paragraph supports the main idea ______, because.
  • The title is _____ so the main idea could be ________.
  • Another title for this text/story could be ________.
  • The first sentence/paragraph (last sentence/paragraph) tells me ______.
  • The repeating idea in the text is _____.
  • The author explains (where, how, why, when, who, etc.) ____ about the topic.
      Once students can find the main idea and distinguish between what the main idea is and the details that support it, they can easily move into looking at the most important events from the beginning, middle and end of the story. This also helps with figuring out problem and solution, plot, author’s purpose and sequencing.  
   You can pick up the main idea poster set from either one of my stores.

      How do you teach main idea?

1 comment :

  1. I’m glad you’re doing this! :) Sounds like great fun!! I'll be glad if you see my blog!


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