Martin Luther King Jr.

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SWBAT identify the main idea based and supporting details in an informational text.

Big Idea

Explore some African American history as students practice identifying the main idea and supporting details.


10 minutes

Common  Core Connection

This lesson focuses mainly on RI1.2 which asks the students to determine the main topic and supporting details. To accomplish this the students need to be able to pick out important details. The next step is to analyze how those details can be combined to create a central message. This makes for a nice opportunity to also expose the class to complex text, and to engage in a cross curricular lesson on African American History. I find that exposing students to complex text really helps them build their vocabulary as well as content knowledge in the subject. To expose the students to complex text I usually read the text we are analyzing three times before they work with the text with a partner. 

Lesson Overview

So, the main topic is Martin Luther King Jr. in the lesson, but I choose to try to help the class get a deeper conceptual understanding by asking them to find the main idea, which is a bit more complex. The students work in a whole group setting to find the main idea and supporting details, and then they work with their partner to find the main idea and supporting detail in another text.  One strategy we use to find the important details is to look at the title and first sentence in each paragraph. Analyzing these parts of the text really lead students to find the important details and central message.

Throughout the entire lesson we work with a partner (Peanut Butter Jelly Partner), and I try to allow the class to transition (Transitions) often to keep them engage. I find these management practices are quite helpful in keeping my students working and learning.

Introductory Activity

I remind the students that we have discussed main idea, and the main idea is the big idea. They have to echo it, tell a friend, and repeat it with me. Then I ask them where we find them main idea.  They have to chant, "The title and the first sentence."  Then I explain that we will be looking at the main idea and supporting details in an informational text about a civil rights leader. 

I begin tell the class that people have not always treated each other respectfully.  I ask them to tell me the school rules.  They are: Be Respectful, Be Responsible, and Be Ready.  I ask them to think about some ways they are respectful and share them. 

I play one minute of this speech and tell them that this is Martin Luther King.

Guided Pracice

20 minutes

I read the text to the class three times: Martin Luther King Paragraph.  This allows them to hear unfamiliar vocabulary and complex details several times so that they can process the information easier.  The students circle any words that they did not understand.  Then students talk to the peanut butter jelly partner about what the word means (Talk to Partner Strategy) in order to engage with RI.1.4, an essential part of comprehension of any new informational text.  Next, they share with the class. Last, we engage in a discussion to determine the meaning of the new word.

Then we begin pulling out details.  I ask the students to tell me one important detail in the text. I have a strategy video for this (Strategy for finding Important Details). A volunteer shares their idea by reading it aloud, and they tell where they found it in the text.  If the others agree that they mentioned an important detail, then we write it in the detail section on the model on the board.  This is the same model we use in the partner work section, because keeping things consistent is one way to help primary students avoid confusion in the directions.  Then we discuss and students volunteer ideas about two more details.

Last, I read the three details and they discuss the main idea with their partner. Check out my Strategy for finding Main Idea.  I call on one group and share their answer.  The rest of the class gives thumbs up or down.  If somebody disagrees then I ask them to explain why.  We may change the main idea or agree that there could be two ways to say the same thing.

Some possible answers are in the resource section (My answers for the guided practice) because I find I need notes to keep myself headed in the right direction.

Group Work

20 minutes

Then I allow them to get into groups of two and identify the main idea and supporting details with their partner. First, I read the text we are focusing on in this section (I only use the first three paragraphs) to the class three times and provide each child with a copy.  This scaffolds instruction because many students can't read the text yet. I actually google my topic.  Then I change words and shorten sentences to make the text challenging, but not overwhelming.

So, I share that they can circle or highlight any important information, and this gives the students a structure to hold them accountable for choosing what information is important. Next, I ask the class to identify three important details and determine one main idea for  the text. I do also provide a graphic organizer (Main Idea and Central Message Graphic Organizer) for the students to write their ideas.

During this time, I circulate to ask questions to help my students:

  • Paragraph 1 (1 Detail):What did he do that was important? ( He told people to be nonviolent, but try to get treated equal.)
  • Paragraph 2 (1 Detail): How and who did he first want equality for? (The wanted equality for African Americans and in a nonviolent way.)
  • Paragraph 3 (1 Detail):What did he do that was really important? ( He gave a speech.)
  • The main idea: How can you say all this in one sentence? (Martin Luther Kind Jr. used nonviolence to try to get equality for African Americans.)


I also tried to differentiate in the lesson and used the picture and sentence matching on on this blog for certain students. I also could have made my own pictures and sentence strips, but printing from the blog is easier. Matching pictures to sentences is one way I am scaffolding the instruction. I deliver the lesson to everyone in the guided practice, but for partner work I scale back to the students who are most challenged by this work. The prerequisite skill for identifying main idea and supporting detail is matching pictures to sentences or words. So, the pictures connect ideas that represent text. Eventually they can match text to pictures. Then they will be able to match text to text. It is about helping students see the connection between things that are related to a central idea.

Student Reflection

10 minutes

I allow them to stay at their tables because they will have all of their work on their desks. Then I ask two groups to share their work This allows the class to practice their speaking and listening skills.  Then other groups can agree or disagree.  Everyones opinion is respected and if they are proven incorrect it is not a big issue.  I make sure they know that we learn more from what we get wrong than what we get correct.

I try to get the students listening to look at the speaker, listen, and think. Actually, I go over this at the beginning of this section. In addition, when the students finish reading their work the other students need to give them academic feedback. This means, " I agree that the main idea is that Martin Luther King Jr. was a civil rights leader, because of ...." or "I disagree, because ..." I am trying to get the students to really evaluate the peers ideas, which is a higher order thinking activity for me and the class. It can be challenging to evaluate work, and I often serve as a model, and yes a may take me a minute to gather my thoughts on some work. 


10 minutes

We join back on the lounge and discuss what we learned. I remind them that the details in informational texts connect to the main idea.  I ask somebody to tell me what we learned today.  Then I say what is the main idea and they chant, "The main idea is the big idea."  I tell them that we will continue working on the main idea and evaluating text.