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Tips and Tricks for Teaching Main Idea

When you are young and have a developing mind, and are always learning something new every day, it can sometimes be confusing and also frustrating to be constantly learning new language arts concepts. Learning main idea can be tricky for students which will also make it challenging for teaching main idea. Here are some things to think about before you start your lesson on main idea that will be helpful for you and your students. 

1- Define the Term

It sounds silly, but often teachers get so caught up in the fine details of what they are trying to explain that they forget the most simple but important part- what is the definition? Make sure the definition you explain is simple, and as clear as possible. Try using as few words as possible so they are not overwhelmed with jargon they do not understand. It would be a good idea to also look at your grade level standards to make sure your students are given the definition that they will need for the test to meet standard requirements. 

2- Identify Similar Concepts

Immediately let students know that they will also be learning about “central message” and “supporting details” and teach them the differences between the 3. They are all very similar but it will be important to identify the differences between all three. This will help them to better understand exactly what you are looking for in “main idea.” This will also help students by using a non-example. Main idea is this- but it is not this…. Which actually has another name- and that is “supporting details.” 

3- Use Visuals for Scaffolding

Younger students tend to be more visual learners because that is the first way they ever learned. To help them to grasp the concept of main idea, use visuals as a scaffolding tool. Some visuals you can use that work great are:

  • Graphic Organizers
  • Bracket Maps
  • Fill in the blank charts
  • Main Idea vs Supporting Detail chart
  • Laminated story boards
  • Written examples of a main idea and central ideas

Anything physical you can create that will help the students to visualize will be very helpful.

4- Give Lots of Practice Opportunities

The more times students repeat a process, the better they will understand it and get the hang of it. Every opportunity that you can, ask the students what the main idea is. Anytime you are reading a short story, or even a long story, get in the habit of asking the students to identify the main idea. If students are struggling, try breaking up the story into chunks and review each couple paragraphs with them. Ask them questions for understanding. If they are not comprehending the reading, it will be difficult for them to be able to figure out the main idea. 

5- Show Them the Clues

Sometimes by observing before you read you will be given clues or hints into the main idea of the story. Let students know to look out for these clues. Things to look at that might be clues would be:

  • Bolded words or phrases
  • Titles
  • Pictures/ book cover
  • First and last sentences
  • First and last paragraphs
  • First and last chapters
  • Chapter Headings

It is not always the case that these will help, but they can help you to get a vision in your mind before searching deep for the main idea. 

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