Tips for Teaching Main Idea

Even at fourth and fifth grade, students struggle to identify the Big Deal, or the main idea, of a paragraph. Here are a few tips that might help.

1.  Use a gradual release of responsibility. During whole group instruction, read a text together. Our district covers fiction first, so that's the genre I use at the beginning of the year. Stop after a paragraph and model how to identify the details in the paragraph. Combining the details leads the reader to the main idea. As you read the story together, stop after another paragraph and identify the main idea together.

2.  Then allow students to work in partners to identify the main idea in later paragraphs. Allow students to practice during small group instruction with short texts or portions of longer texts. Students also practice in learning stations with texts on their independent level. Finally students will be able to identify the main idea independently.

3.  Use open-ended questioning at the beginning of year so students don't get dependent on finding the answer among the objective-type answers provided. Later, as testing approaches, you can switch them to the objective question and answer format.


These are the task cards I use. There are 64 in all--32 in open-ended format, and 32 in objective format.  Perfect for gradual release of responsibility.

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