Ida B. Wells

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SWABT identify the main idea and three supporting details after listening to an excerpt from an informational text read aloud.

Big Idea

Engage your class in a cross curricular lesson about the main idea while teaching about Ida B. Wells and African American History.


10 minutes

Common Core Connection

The standard RI1.2 is about finding the main topic and supporting details.  In addition to that RI1.1 is about answering questions about the text with an eye on using text evidence. So, I try to combine these standard to focus on asking the question: What is the main idea? What details support that main idea?

Doing a read aloud in a first grade lesson allows for a great deal of text complexity, and the class can be exposed to new vocabulary through oral reading.  Both texts I use in this lesson are very challenging, and I really believe that students need this exposure to rich vocabulary with a teacher's support to aid their comprehension. This lesson provides for the introduction of new vocabulary and practice with locating the main idea/supporting details.

I wanted to share something that confused me about this standard. The main idea is the message that the writer is trying to convey (usually can be summed up in a phrase or sentence), whereas the topic is a general idea (usually can be summed up in one or two words). For example, in this lesson the topic is Ida B. Wells, and the main idea is that Ida B. Wells was a advocate for civil rights.  So, I chose to focus on main idea, because I felt like it required higher thinking skills, where as the topic seems more simplified. I am trying to really challenge the class in this lesson.

Lesson Overview

The class works as a whole group to locate the main idea and supporting details for a passage about Ida B. Wells that I got from Read Naturally, which is a leveled intervention program.  It is basically a bunch of informational passages. Then they work with a partner to analyze another text about Ida B. Wells. I just google the "Ida B. Wells" and then change the Lexile myself by substituting vocabulary and shortening sentences. By using text on the same subject I am scaffolding instruction, and helping them gain knowledge as well as analyze main idea. I find that locating the main idea is a very challenging skill to teach my students, so slowly building the complexity is very helpful.

Throughout the lesson the students work in small groups (Peanut Butter Jelly Partner) and transition (Transitions) often. These management practices really seem to make my lessons flow well.

Introductory Activity

The students are seated in the lounge area (which is what most people call the carpet - I like to make it a little special).  Then I begin asking the students to predict what the main idea might be based on the illustrations and the title.  Then I ask one learner to share their prediction.  Then I ask the other students to join in a discussion about how they agree or disagree. I do ask each individual volunteer to share with the class what illustrations or details led them to their prediction about the main idea. The students are basically justifying their decision using text evidence.

Next, I share this little rap and explain the main idea to the class. Now we have to listen to it a couple times. They love it and really remember the main idea as the "big idea."

Last, I share the lesson plan and that we are going to find the main idea together, and they will have a chance to do it with a partner. The students need to know my expectations, because it puts them at ease during the lesson.

Guided Practice

20 minutes

I begin this section by telling my students that we are looking for the big idea in the text and the important details. The big strategies I give students to come up with the main idea are: 1) looking at the title or 2) looking at the first sentence in the paragraph.

I read the first paragraph. Students are now asked to talk to their partner about what might be the big idea/main idea of this paragraph. I tell them that our clue is the first sentence. So, I listen while they talk and ask somebody to share their idea. Then, the class engages in a discussion about why this is correct and I add it to our chart.

I then read paragraph two to the class.  Then I ask each student to tell their cooperative partner one detail from that paragraph.  After about one minute, I ask one person to share.  Another group is asked to build upon the previous groups comments.  Then the whole class will give a thumbs up or thumbs down.  One correct detail is added to the poster.

I then read paragraph three, and each individual is asked to write one detail on a post it.  They share their idea with their partner.  This is part of my plan to gradually release the task of finding important details about the main idea to students, who will have to do it with a partner in the next section. Then I calls on one person to tell their detail from this paragraph. The detail is written on the board (Finished Work Class Work).

Partner Work

20 minutes

I send the students to their desks.  They are seated in small groups of two.  Each child has a collaborative partner called their peanut butter jelly partner (see first section for an explanation of this grouping strategy).  I read the text (Ida B Wells Let the Truth Be Told By Walter Dean Myers) to the students three times to scaffold my instruction and get the class familiar with the text.

Then they work with a partner to identify a detail for each paragraph. Then they use details to create a main idea for the whole selection. Doing this will lay the foundation for later, in second grade, when they have to think about the main idea for each paragraph in a selection. The students write their ideas on this sheet I made (Main Idea Ida B. Wells). I put my model answers (My Answers for Ida B. Wells) in the resource section - I like to have to have a note or sheet that tells me the answers I am looking for in the lesson. Otherwise, I get lost and off track, because there is so much discussion when I try to lead them to the correct answers.

When I walk around and work with pairs to lead them to the correct answers, my questions include:

  • What did Ida B. Wells do?
  • What was important about those sentences?
  • What are those sentences saying?
  • What is the big idea of that paragraph?
  • Did you reread the first sentence?
  • Can you restate the first sentence in the paragraph?


I also created an extension to connect to real world problem solving and application. I ask the early finishers to write a paragraph about how they would handle being treated unfairly so that they can relate to Ida B. Wells.

Student Reflection

5 minutes

This is the time in the lesson where my students work on speaking, listening, and evaluation. Two or three students read their work to the class, while those listening give academic feedback to their peers.

There are a few issues related to speaking and listening in the primary grades, and they are basically related to focusing.  So, I specifically ask my students to look at the speakers' eyes, think about what they are saying, put their hands in their lap, sit criss cross, and be prepared to give them ideas about how they might improve their work in a complete sentence or thought.  They may also tell why they agree with something the speaker said. We do not say, "Good job." because it does not help others improve their work. I tell my students to give specific feedback.


5 minutes

This is a short, but essential time in the lesson for me to refocus the class on the goal. I also try to assess their knowledge of the main idea. So, I ask the students to tell their partner one way they can find the main idea. Hopefully, they will say by looking at the title or first sentence in the paragraph.

Last, I ask the class to echo the lesson goal, "I can locate the main idea and three supporting details."