The main idea is defined as the central point or big picture of a story or informational text. The details are those statements that support (go along with) the main idea. Main idea and details are important in all types of texts (literature and informational), as well as in writing.
The central message of the story is the main point that the author wants you to remember. Many consider this the “big idea” of the story and can be described in a word or two. It may also be the lesson that an author wants you learn from the text.
Main Idea and Details
- You can play “Does It Belong” with your students. After reading a story, identify the main idea and then come up with statements that are either a detail or not. (Example – The Three Little Pigs – MI = The Little Pigs build houses and try to stay safe from the Big Bad Wolf. D = The first Little Pig builds his house out of straw. ND = The Big Bad Wolf likes to dance.) Students can give thumbs up/down depending on whether the detail belongs or not. This is also an easy activity to incorporate into a small group center for added practice.
- A variation of “Does It Belong” involves students creating the “detail statements”. After reading a story, students write down a sentence on a strip of paper. This sentence is either a detail of the story, or not. There are a variety of ways you can finish this activity. You can play “Musical Partners”, where students pair up with various classmates, read their statement and have the partner decide if it’s a detail or not. Or, you can have a T-chart with the headings “Story Detail” and “Does Not Belong”. Students place their statements in the appropriate columns and as a class you double check for correctness.
- I use a tree visual for my students. They write the main idea of the story/text onto the trunk and then create branches with details/facts that support that main idea. How many branches will their tree have?
- Using a fluency passage, have students identify the 3-5 best supporting details and have them partner/group share their responses. To increase the rigor, ask students to explain why their chosen details are the best.
Working Backwards (Details to Main Idea)
Instead of identifying the main idea first, students can also work backwards. Try starting with the details and encouraging students to discover the main idea.
- I like to work backwards with informational text, giving detail clues and asking the students to identify the main topic of the text. Using a “story web”, I will write down details in the outer bubbles and have the main topic covered by a post-it in the center. As students are given the details, they discuss what the topic could be. The object is to guess it before all of the clues have been written. I use this activity to introduce a new unit of study, especially in science and social studies.
- We have an easy to use introductory center to help students understand Main Idea and Details. This center is a great tool, especially with ELL students. Students are able to identify all of the objects on the page (vocabulary), then asked to state the main idea or category and give reasons why. It’s a quick and easy activity to integrate into your centers. Just laminate the pages and go!
- “Mystery Bags” is another fun activity to use when working backwards. Place a variety of objects or pictures in a brown paper bag that all relate to one topic. In groups, students pull out the objects and try to identify the main idea that encompasses all of them. I create a recording sheet with corresponding letters to the bags, so students can list the objects and then the Main Idea category.
- You can cover the title of the story/text, read the book and then have the students come up with their own title.
- Give students a list of words that belong in one of three categories. Students will have to sort the words into categories and then come up with a title for each category.
Don’t Forget About Writing
- The Important Book by Margaret Wise Brown is wonderful as a mini-lesson on main idea and details. I use it to model what this looks like in writing. Each page has an object and then identifies a series of details about that particular object. After reading the book, students are asked to choose a classroom object and create their own “Important Book” page. You can guide their writing by using the anchor chart below, or allow them to come up with their own sentence organization.
- Create a Theme vs Main Idea chart, so students can understand the difference between the two. The theme or central message will be one or two words, while the main idea can be summed up in a sentence.
- Use fables or folktales to help students understand the central message. We have an easy to use Moral of the Story center for your students to practice this skill in small groups. With this resource, students read through a scenario and then determine the moral or lesson learned by the character. It’s a very simple center to integrate into small groups, just laminate and go!
- Review some familiar stories with your students and have them identify the central message of each. This activity can become a match game, with students then recording the reason why they chose that particular message for each book. (Example: The Rainbow Fish – friendship/sharing – The rainbow fish learns that in order to make and keep friends he must share.) As they practice this activity more, they will realize that the central message is supported by the main idea.
-Written by Janessa Fletcher
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