Practice Summarizing with Short Stories

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SWBAT recount short stories and determine the main idea and supporting details.

Big Idea

What is the main idea and supporting details? Point them out!



I’m teaching this lesson because I want to scaffold the idea of identifying main idea and supporting details.  I’m starting with an explanation and using very short stories with simple language. I’m using the ‘arrow’ visual on the organizer because I think kids need something visual to see how to identify main idea.

I’m giving them very short paragraphs so they can practice choosing a main idea. We then build on those skills with longer paragraphs and the students inferring the main idea. Choosing a main idea from a multiple choice list is a common test item and I was tempted to have students practice this skill only in the paragraphs. However, with the Standards, that requirement will change to students choosing a main idea and showing ‘why’ they chose that idea. The skill of identifying main idea and verifying it with supporting details (RL.2.2) is foundational for good reading and a skill that students need to develop.

Let's Get Excited!

5 minutes

Underlined words below are lesson vocabulary words that are emphasized and written on sentence strips for my Reading & Writing word wall. I pull off the words off the wall for each lesson, helping students understand this key 'reading and writing' vocabulary can be generalized across texts and topics.  The focus on acquiring and using these words is part of a shift in the Common Core Standards towards building students’ academic vocabulary.  My words are color coded ‘pink’ for literature/’blue’ for reading strategies/’orange’ for informational text/'yellow' for writing/’green’ for all other words)


Bring students to a common starting point

  • "When we read, it’s important to be able to point the ‘big idea’ or the main idea of what we’re reading."  Use the pointer when you do this
  • "If we can identify the main idea, then we can look at how all of the ideas connect to that big idea."
  • "Authors want us to see that their stories have connected ideas.”


Engage students

  • “I need some help pointing to the main idea and the ideas that support that main idea.”
  • “Let’s start with a few riddles. Riddles give you supporting ideas, but you have to guess the main idea.”
    • I am a tall animal. I have spots. Those are 2 supporting ideas. Can you guess the main idea?  Right it’s a giraffe!”
    • “Here’s an other riddle with supporting ideas. This is a teacher who…. And …… .  What’s the main idea?  Who is the teacher?”


Use teachers, students in the class, foods and things the kids know about. They love these riddles and it gets them engaged in the lesson. 

Teacher's Turn

20 minutes

Explain the strategy

  • Look at the slides to talk more about main idea.
  • Go through the powerpoint slide 1-2. 
  • Explain main idea and details.
  • Use the ‘arrow’ visual to show kids that the supporting ideas ‘support’ or ‘verify’ the main idea.

Model how to use the strategy

  • You can model this strategy on slides 3-6. Pause before clicking on the answers to give students think time.  
  • Caution students about the difference between the main idea and details..    
    • "I like ice cream sounds like the ‘big idea’. Eat it with mom and dad. I don’t think that really supports the main idea." 
    • "My dog runs in a circle – is that the main idea? No, because jumping over everything does not support the idea of him running in a circle. He is silly – yes running and jumping supports that idea."
    • "That’s a long story about toys. I should read the whole story first before I try to figure out the main idea. Is the main idea in the story? Yes, I see it – ‘I had a bad day….’ 
  • Here's some great comments from my student's about the powerpoint.
  • Continue modeling with slides 7-8 if students are still confused. 


Guided practice

  • Slides 9-14 would be more guided practice. "Read this and tell me the main idea." Take volunteers. 
  • "Is this a main idea or detail?" How do you know?"
  • I spent more time going through slides with guided practice. I wanted my kids to be really secure with this skill. 

Students Take A Turn

20 minutes

Explain task


Follow up to activity

  • “When we’re done, we can talk about the answers. I walked around and asked to students to explain their ideas. Here's a student explaining her work.


As students examine these multi paragraph texts, they are asked to identify the main topic and supporting details. (RL.2.2) The Common Core Standards wants them to be 'close readers' who are able to analyze the text as they read. Can they identify what the text is about (main idea)? What supports that main idea (details)? How can they show this is the main idea? This ability to return to text allows the students deepen their comprehension.

Apply What You've Learned!

10 minutes

Extend their learning

  • Students create some ‘main idea riddles’ to fool the class 
  • Student write them on the back of their paper with at least 2 supporting ideas.
  • It must be a story, not just details, with a clear answer


Teacher modeling

  • ‘Yesterday was so fun.  Mom and I went out on errands and stopped at a great place. I love to go to this place with animals. It’s fun to pet them and you can buy an animal if mom let’s you. I hope to go back and get a new friend.’


Student share

  • Students share their ideas. Make comments about good supporting ideas and clear main ideas.


Scaffolding and Special Education: This lesson could be easily scaffolded up or down, depending on student ability.

The riddles were fun for all of my kids and I called on some struggling students for the easier answers. As we went through the powerpoint, the visual really helped the kids and I was glad there were easier and harder examples. You can again call on students of varying ability levels to answer the harder and easier questions.  

The worksheet was harder for my struggling students, so I worked with them while the rest of the class worked independently. Here's an example of me reading with a student.

For students with more ability, I would challenge them to have more detail in their answers and use higher level vocabulary, especially when they make their own riddles.