Stage A
A Twist on Main Idea

It seems to be the same every year...  

I go into my Comprehension Skills Report and a huge chunk of my kids are below benchmark in Finding the Main Idea.  So, I spend several of my differentiation checkpoints teaching and reteaching the skill.

It always helps.  The numbers always improve.  But it seems like the problem never goes away.  It seems like no matter what I do, there are always 4 or 5 students still struggling with the Main Idea skill.  

But there are so many other areas of comprehension that my students need help with that I cringe to think about how much of my instructional time this one skill is consuming.  

So, I began doing some research to see if there was another approach or twist that might help.   

Here's what I found: 

1.  Find (or write) a short nonfiction paragraph.  It should be 4 - 5 sentences long and should NOT have the main idea written explicitly in it.
2.  Read the paragraph with your students.
3.  Have your students identify the General Topic (This is broader than the main Idea: i.e. "Robots," not "How Robots are Programmed") 
4.  Have your students break the paragraph apart (a simple graphic organizer with 4 text boxes...one for each sentence... will work perfectly).
5.  Have them identify what each sentence is about.
6.  Have them find the commonalities between the sentences.
7.  List the Main Idea based on what you find.
8.  Repeat as needed:)

Here's a simplified example:

"Let's read."

     Some whales are twenty times bigger than the largest elephant.  Some whales can grow to be over a hundred feet long.  The biggest one ever found weighed about 300,000 pounds and was longer than three school buses.  Believe it or not, its heart was the size of a car.

"What is the general topic of this paragraph?"


"Great!  We know the general topic, but what are they saying about whales?  Let's break the paragraph apart and see what each is about."

"Awesome Job!  So what is the main idea?  What are all the sentences talking about?  What do they have in common?"

"So, this story is about how big whales are."

Repeat as needed.  It took a few run throughs, but I have had great success using this strategy with my kids.  Give it a try!  It may help your's too:)

This strategy is adapted from Kathleen Lord's article "Determining the main idea: Instructional Strategies that Work."   


Lord, K. M. (2015). Determining the main idea: Instructional strategies that work. Kappa Delta Pi Record, 51(3), 138-142.

Stage A READ 180 Educator