Another way to help students find the main idea and supporting details is to highlight supporting details for a given main idea. It can also be considered a test-taking strategy. Students were given a passage with multiple choice questions on the main idea. I deliberately chose short passages for students to work with at this time. Starting them off with smaller chunks made it easier for them to see the connection between the main idea and supporting details because they would all be encompassed within one short paragraph. They also selected four different highlighters, crayons, or colored pencils. Highlighting the details in different colors addresses the visual and tactile learning style of many students.
I reminded students that the main idea is what a piece of text is mostly about. I told them I was going to show them a colorful way to determine the main idea. I displayed the passage on the document camera. I modeled reading it and the answer choices aloud. I re-read the first answer choice and highlighted details that matched that answer choice in yellow. I read the second answer choice and highlighted details that matched in green. I did the same for the third and fourth answer choices in orange and blue respectively. I thought aloud, “What is this passage mostly about? Is it mostly about A? (I really read the entire answer choice.) No, because only one detail talks about that. Is it B? No, it only has one detail, too? Is it C? C has 5 details highlighted in orange. I’m going to put a question mark by it and check D. Hmm, D has no details highlighted. Okay, the answer must be C because most of the details talk about C.” At this time, students can see the passage highlighted mostly in orange, indicating those details support the main idea.
I did a few more examples like this and guided students in doing the same.
Note: I taught this strategy over a 3-day period.)
Students worked independently on their passages. I wanted them to concentrate on the reading, so I did not have them work with a partner. I walked around and monitored as they worked. If a student selected a wrong answer, I had them make note of the dominant color. I reminded them that the main idea is what a passage is mostly about. The color with the most sentences to support one of the answers indicate it is what the passage is mostly about. Therefore it is the main idea. If an answer choice only has one or two sentences highlighted in a color, it may not be the main idea.
Students were assessed on the number of correct answers. A score of 80% or above was considered mastery. They completed four short passages on their own. This is a tough skill for third grade students throughout the state, so I was not surprised if most students did not achieve mastery. This is a skill I work on throughout the year through spiral review.
I wanted to gauge how students felt about today’s lesson, so I had them complete a graphic organizer on what they had learned today. I paid particular attention to the questions I have section. I want to be able to address them in the next day’s lesson. I often use student feedback to drive my instruction. They tell me what their needs are and it is my job to meet them.