Invasive Species: Find the Main Idea

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Cite evidence in an article about the problem of wild camels in Australia.

Big Idea

Discover the environmental problems caused by an invasive species.

Guided Practice

25 minutes

This lesson is adapted from one that appears in Texts and Lessons for Content-Area Reading (2011) by Harvey Daniels and Nancy Steineke, which is available at It is a wonderful resource that includes more than 75 high-interest articles, like the ones utilized in this lesson.

Students gain proficiency comprehending text by using strategies that include noticing nonfiction text features and annotating main ideas and important information.  Oftentimes this begins with articles that include headings to signal changes in the topic. Eventually, the students are ready to take on the challenge of working with text that does not include these features.

To generate their interest, I choose an article on an invasive alien species because I know they love learning about the environment. Also, in later lessons we will read multiple articles related to this topic and analyzing the information. But, first things first…

I ask students “What area of the world comes to mind when you think of camels?” Obviously, Egypt, the Middle East, or the Sahara Desert are the expected responses. Certainly not Australia, which is actually where more than a million camels now live! To give the students more information, I read aloud the first three paragraphs of "Outback Steakhouse" by Marina Kamenev. Along the way I stop to share my reactions, questions and connections. Then it is time to pass out copies of the article for the kids to finish reading silently. Of course, they too have reactions to share, so I allow them to turn and talk with a partner. The questions that come up have to do with the type of work the camels were brought to Australia to do, what it would be like to meet up with one if you were hiking in the desert, why some people want to shoot them now, and what if it was your property the camels destroyed. 

After about five minutes, we go back to the text and discuss parts that may be hard to understand like bush meat, enviro-friendly and abattoir. Abattoir is the least familiar, but we determine from context clues and confirm with the dictionary that it is a slaughterhouse. A marked up copy of the text appears here.



25 minutes

In order to summarize this article, we first identify the main idea: Australian camels are numerous because they have no natural predator, so one solution could be selling their meat. Of course, the students recognize the lack of headings in the article and recognize finding the main ideas will be more difficult without them. We brainstorm what to do next and they remember writing news articles about themselves very early in the school year. At that point, they decide to use the same question words here: who, what, where, when, why and how. Working with a partner, they list these question words down the side of the article and mark the places in the text where the information is present. What they uncover is added to a graphic organizer specifically designed to help with the process. A copy of a completed graphic organizer appears here. Right away they realize that the final copy of the summary does not need to be in the order that information appears on the organizer and they understand some parts may be combined to make their summary have better flow and be more logical. Here's a video of what that looks like in a summary example: