Firehouse Dogs: Finding the Main Ideas

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Identify the main ideas and supporting details in a nonfiction article about dalmations. Write a well-organized summary.

Big Idea

Dalmatians and firehouses just seem to go together. To discover how the relationship between the two started, students must unravel a complex text.

Activator: Reread “Dalmatians: Firehouse Dogs”

10 minutes

This lesson follows up on one in which students read the article “Dalmatians: Firehouse Dogs article” and uncovered meaning of unfamiliar and unknown vocabulary. So with that experience under their belts, they are ready to move forward. If you completed that lesson too then you may to start the class by rereading the text as a game of tag, which is explained here:

Guided Practice

20 minutes

When marking up the text with students, you will notice that the first two paragraphs are the hook, or lead, designed to draw readers in and introduce the main idea, which is that “dalmatians and firehouses go together.” To write a summary of this article, students must be selective and choose only the most important information that supports the main idea. As that work begins, the students easily recognize that paragraphs 3-5 are not part of the lead and give this section the heading “In the Beginning” or “How It Began.” Working together we identify three parts to the text that support the heading.

To repeat the process for the next section, students work with others at their table group and we reconvene to discuss what they choose. This part is tougher because there are eight paragraphs and lots of description. I remind them often to go back to the main idea and ask “Is this important to the ‘big idea’ of the article?” For this type of work it is important to have students in mixed ability groupings so the stronger students have peers to bounce ideas off of and weaker readers have supportive role models. Eventually, we come to a consensus on the main ideas of this section and move forward to the next one. It looks like it will be a breeze because it is only three paragraphs, but do not be fooled. Many students highlight that “these dogs have spots everywhere” and “they’ve become the polka dot darlings of advertising and fashion photographers” but others ask if this is really important to the main idea. “Well, no, I guess not,” becomes the consensus. Ahhh, at last, my work here is done! They are gaining independence.

Time to Write

25 minutes

Now that we have identified the main ideas and sorted through the details, it is time to plan a summary of this article using a graphic organizer and to then write final copies. We use the same graphic organizer as in a previous lesson and the summary is graded accorded to the same rubric before, too. Familiarity makes the work easier. Since it is our second time through the process the students work with partners instead of being guided through it. This is an example of the gradual release of responsibility so common in teaching. It's value is proven here as evidenced by the work the students produced: a completed graphic organizer appears here and an example of a final summary appears here.