Teaching Main Idea and Supporting Details with Hands on Activities

With Common Core we are digging deeper into the standards {our district uses the term "digging deeper" at most PDs} and sometimes that makes it difficult to find new and creative ways to teach a standard we have already covered in the first nine weeks.

Main Idea can be a bit boring to teach and/or a little redundant.  The first nine weeks we started with our Interactive Notebook to teach Main Idea and what readers do before, during, and after reading to find the main idea of a passage.  We practiced a lot with Close readings and highlighting, and task cards.  This time around I wanted the students to do more activities and application practice.

We started the week off with reviewing the definition of Main Idea, Supporting Details, and what readers do while reading using our Interactive Notebooks.  We also reviewed that the main idea can often times be found in the first and last sentence of a passage or paragraph, but NOT always.

For the week's Close reading passage we used a Scholastic Weekly Reader we received before Thanksgiving break {I saved it for this week's lesson}. It had a great passage about endangered animals, which also went along with our district's theme for reading. In the first lesson students read the section about the bald eagle to find the main idea of that specific paragraph.

The second lesson I modeled how to find the main idea, supporting details, and summarized the Where Are They Now? section of the passage.  Each team member was then assigned a different section of the article.  They were to identify the main idea, supporting details, and summarize the paragraph on a sticky note.  I gave each student a different colored sticky note, so when we put them together (see below) we could easily see the different parts of the article.

Each team member works on a different part of the text.

A student highlights the main idea and supporting details.

A student summarizes the text after identifying the main idea and supporting details.

Once all students had completed their summary I had all the students who read about the alligator meet, all the ones who read about the bear meet, etc. to discuss and share their information/summaries.

This group is sharing and discussing the main idea and their summaries about the American Alligator.

Students then went back to their teams and shared their summaries with their teammates.  If I remember correctly this is similar to Kagan's Jigsaw cooperative learning structure.  I told my students instead of them reading the entire passage their teammates did some of the work for them.  Once I said this they had a clearer picture on what and why we were reading the passage this way, they also liked having less work. :)

Students share their summaries with their original teams.

Finally, teams put their summaries together to create a summary for the entire passage.  We discussed that the summary should reflect the main idea of the entire passage. They used the information from the previous day, my summary from the beginning of the lesson, and their summaries to write their team summary.  I heard many groans when I told them they could only right two-three sentences.  Once I made it a challenge between the teams to see who could come up with the most accurate and shortest summary they were quickly motivated to complete the task.

I provided each team with a piece of card stock labeled "What's the Main Idea?" and a large blue lined sticky note cut in half.

A student writes her team's summary for the entire passage.

Completed team assignment.

On the third day I created Main Idea Bags (you can find them HERE) for my students to work with for reviewing this skill.  In each bag I placed pictures related to a topic.  There were five pictures in each bag.  The pictures represented the details to the main idea.

Students took out the pictures identified the topic, chose three details (pictures), and a possible main idea for the bag.  Once students completed all ten bags they chose one bag to use to write a paragraph using the main idea and details from the bag.

Students identified the topic, details, and possible main ideas.
Topic: Science lab/experiment
Details: safety goggles, microscope, notebook, scientist, & chemical
Main Ideas: Safety in the Lab, How to conduct a Science experiment, etc

My class loves all things Titanic.  Many chose this bag to write about.

The fourth day of our Main Idea review we practiced reading passages and answering multiple choice questions.  I will post about how we do this soon! :)

For more Main Idea teaching ideas check out my friend Mandy from The 4th Grade Journey post HERE. :)


  1. Love this lesson! I may do this tomorrow. We are learning about Main Idea and Supporting Details this week. I have been using lessons from ReadWorks, but I can't wait to try your lesson using the Scholastic News magazine.

    Thanks for sharing!
    Shepherd's Shining Stars

  2. This post is perfect timing for me! I love all your ideas, especially the main idea bags!
    Fourth Grade Flipper

  3. Great stuff! You provided me with some new strategies for reviewing this important concept with students. Thanks!
    Crafting Connections

  4. I use my Time for Kids Magazine in similar ways. My kids like it because there is variety every week, and I like the practice with informative text!
    Enjoy the rest of your week!

    Coffee Cups and Lesson Plans

  5. Thank you so much for posting this. I used it with my class and they loved it. Even more....they did much better on main idea.


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