Inferring the Main Idea: Day One

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SWBAT infer a central idea in informational text.

Big Idea

Think as you read!


10 minutes

During my 4-2-1 Free Write lesson, I realized that some of my students cannot find the main idea!  (Gasp!)  I struggle with teaching this concept each year, and this year I have decided to teach them a variety of strategies and skills to help them find and write a main idea.  

Today I am starting with a pre assessment.  You can use any passage for this, but I found a cool resource on this web site.  It lists some different informational passages at a sixth grade level and suggested skills.  

I think that this website in general is worth a look because it has some cool CCSS organizers and resources.  

My pre-assessment plan is pretty simple.  I will ask them to read the passage and find the main idea of paragraph 3 then find the main idea of the entire passage.  

I like giving this type of pretest vs. a multiple choice test because it tells me if the students really can write a main idea.  Many times students just give a topic, not a main idea.  

I will use this pre test to help me figure out exactly where my class in general and individual students need help.  It will also help me recognize those students who may be proficient in this skill.  

Here are the results:


10 minutes

The text I have chosen is for a personal reason, but like I said before, any informational text will work with this strategy.  I chose this "Polar Vortex" article from Newsela because one of the sixth grade teachers is currently stuck in Chicago due to the storm and can't get back to Arizona to teach!  The students are very interested in this, so I figured it would be a teachable moment!

On a side note, if you haven't used, you must check it out!  It is an absolute goldmine for teachers who are following the Common Core shift to more informational text.  The web site takes current news article and rewrites them at 3 or 4 different lexiles.  It is amazing!

Before we read, I am going to ask my students to complete a circle map in their reading notebooks to access prior knowledge about this winter storm.  It may seem like a no brainer, but living in Phoenix, some of our kids have never seen snow before!  They will write "Winter Storm" in the center of the map and take a few minutes to brainstorm everything they can think of that they already know.  I will have them share with their table groups as well and finally with the whole class.  

I also have a video and a cool picture to show them relating to the storm.  The picture is of a light house off of Lake Michigan that is frozen.   Like I said, these Arizona kids are going to be amazed!

This strategy will help my students build background on a concept that is somewhat unfamiliar to most of them.  Discussing the storm before we read about it will help them prepare for the task of finding the central idea of a text.


Reading Informational Text

20 minutes

Before we even begin reading, I will ask the students to read the title and predict what the purpose of this text might be.  We will also read the caption, look at the picture, and spend some time discussing it since it is about an unfamiliar concept (pouring salt on roads).  We will also discuss the importance of headings and their purpose.  

As the students read, I am going to ask them to create a bubble map full of key points they've read.  I will model this process and think aloud for the first few paragraphs of the text.  The point of this lesson is to narrow down something big (the whole article) into something specific and manageable (the main idea), so I am encouraging them to jot down anything that seems important.  It is ok if the bubble map is completely packed!  

I am going to allow students to work in partners or alone for this reading.  As they read, they will fill out their bubble maps by adding any important information that they come across.  I will spend my time circulating and monitoring the students as they work.  I really want students to create the bubble map as they go, so I will remind them if necessary.  

This particular article is a 950 lexile, but it can be altered to a higher or lower lexile on  Because this lexile is pretty comfortable for most of my students, I don't expect them to have many problems with comprehension.  They are somewhat unfamiliar with the topic, however, so they may have concept related questions.