I have been having so much fun volunteering in my grandson’s First Grade classroom this year. I get to work with small groups of children during Reader’s Workshop, and I love it. Over the last few weeks I noticed that several groups of children have trouble identifying the main idea of a text. This week I spent some time researching on Pinterest and other wonderful sites for helpful ideas. I found that many of the lessons available to teach Main Idea deal with informational text. There are wonderful posts if you are working on this, but I was trying to help these students find the main idea in stories.
I found lots of examples of this fun idea!
Collect a few objects that all relate to one idea and put them into a bag. Take them out one at a time and ask the children to figure out the main idea of the bag.
The main idea might be a farm:
Or the main idea might be school tools
Or it could be baking cookies:
I would take out the least obvious thing first, building up to the thing that will give the children the biggest clue. For example, with the farm idea I would start with the fence, and save the farmer for the last item I showed the children. For the school bag I would pull out a crayon or pencil first, and save the school bus for the very last thing.
I think this activity would be helpful by giving the children practice in thinking about what all the items have in common. The items in the bag are the details that all go together to tell the main idea.
When the students get the idea of this activity I might add a writing component.
I printed these 2 on a sheet to save paper! It is pretty straight forward and simple. The children would list a few of the items and the main idea of the bag. For the final sentence I would expect the children to write something like “all these things belong on a farm,” or “you use all these things to bake cookies.” Part of the reason I like this activity is because it does make it seem very simple to figure out the main idea – it kind of takes the mystery out of it, although of course it gets a bit more tricky when they are looking for the main idea of a story.
Here are a few more ideas for Main Idea Bags:
A similar idea that could be used to introduce Main Idea is to show the children an illustration and asking “What is the most important thing going on in this picture?”
For this illustration the children might say “the animals are at a circus,” or “the animals are in the circus.” Then you could ask what they see that gives them that idea. This gives them practice determining the main idea and identifying supporting details.
You could begin with a very simple picture that clearly shows the main idea.
And also show them some pictures that they will need to think a bit – I love this illustration from Lorinda Bryan Cauley’s book Clap Your Hands, where the characters are all whispering secrets!
Of course you would need to be clear that you are only talking about the main idea of that picture, and for the main idea of a book you have to look at the whole book.
It might be helpful to use photographs – even photos taken in your classroom.
Here is a writing activity that could be used with looking at illustrations to find the main idea.
I intentionally did not crop this photo. I would expect the children to see that the main idea is the children driving vehicles down the ramp. They might talk about things they see like the Christmas stockings, the Dad sitting on the floor and the edge of the Frozen Castle. This would be great practice in talking about how to figure out what is the most important part. There are often details that are not important and the children need to be able to figure that out. I would discuss which details support the main idea. If I used the writing activity with this photograph I would explain that the details they list should be things that help them know the most important part of the picture.
I came across another idea that I thought might help children think about the main idea. The basic idea of this strategy is to challenge the children to tell a story using 2 words. For example, they might say “fell-playground,” and the story they are telling would be about an accident at recess. “Bike-park” might be about riding their bike at a park. “Grandma-cookies” might be about baking with their grandmother. I would discuss how the 2 words they chose tell the main idea of their story.
One teacher asked her children to write a 2 word story about what they did over the weekend. You could have them write on small pieces of paper, then collect them and draw one out at a time and ask the children to tell the details of their story.
You could also have the children share their 2 word story with a partner, first reading their 2 words, then adding the details.
Tomorrow is my day to volunteer in Owen’s room! Maybe I’ll get a chance to try out a few of these ideas!