Finding the Main Idea

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SWBAT find a main idea when it is stated in the text.

Big Idea

What's the gist?

Note Taking

10 minutes

With CCSS, it is easy to overlook skill based instruction.  Unless we have deliberately unpack the standards, it is tough to know all the prerequisite skills that are implied in the standards.  These unspoken skills lead me to teach this lesson on main idea, which honestly, is not very Common Core aligned.  Of course 6th graders need to be able to identify and write a main idea, and since only 2 of my 85 students could generate one on their own, I don't think my time will be wasted!  

I am going to start out by having my students write down a few notes in their reading notebooks.  I don't often have them take notes, and I guarantee you this will be met with groans, which I will ignore!  No problem!  

I want students to write a definition for main idea that is student friendly.  I came up with this: A main idea is a sentence that tells what a text is mostly about. 

I included the sentence part because so many of my students have been giving me one word answers.  For example:

Me:  What is the main idea of this paragraph?

Student:  Pandas

Me: No, that is the topic.  What is the main idea?

Student:  About how Pandas are?

You know that this conversation is headed nowhere.  I want my students to be able to state a main idea in sentence form.  Is this too much to ask?

I also want them to write down some helpful hints in the form of a bubble map:  Look for big ideas, Can be stated or implied, Keep it short and sweet like telling a friend/Keep 5 W's (who, what, when, where, why) in mind.

I am going to have the students practice this telling a friend method using one of the Toy Story movies since most have seen at least one of them.  They will tell us what the movie was about using one complete sentence.  

Next, I'll have them choose a movie they've seen recently and state the main idea of a movie to a friend.  Here are some examples of my students telling the main idea of a movie in a one sentence statement.  


10 minutes

Next, I am going to have students write down a process that I want them to follow when looking for the main idea.  It helps them focus on what's important.  First they will read, then they will highlight key words, finally they will focus on generating a big idea.  

Next, we will practice with a sample text on the Great Wall of China.  I will model the reading and highlighting process for the first 2 sentences, and then I will have students finish independently.  I chose this particular text because it goes along with what the students are currently learning about in social studies.  They have some background knowledge which makes comprehension easier and allows the students to focus on the task at hand.  

When they finish, I will ask them to tell me the topic of the paragraph.  Many of my students are confusing topic with main idea believe it or not, so I want to make a point that they are different.  Next,  they will share with me what they highlighted, and I will record it on the Smart Board.  Finally, we will look at big ideas that are presented in the text like the size of the wall and the purpose of it.  

I will tell the students that the main idea is actually stated in the text as one of the sentences.  I'll ask them to each identify that sentence by writing down its number (the sentences on the text sample are all numbered).  I will highlight any sentences that students chose up on the Smart Board. Table groups will discuss which one is the best main idea and why.  We will eventually come to the conclusion that sentence one is the main idea because it gives the gist of the text and can be supported with all of the other details.  

Whew!  That is a lot of work to come up with one main idea!  



10 minutes

First, I will have students practice using the Native American passage where the main idea is stated.  I'll have them underline and then determine the main idea.  I will ask them if they think it is stated in the text or if they have to generate one.  They will likely recognize that the main idea is actually the first sentence of this paragraph.

Now we will move on to the second paragraph that is more difficult because the main idea is implied.  I will give them this information up front to avoid unnecessary confusion.  First we will read and highlight key words.  Then I will ask the students to tell me the topic of the passage.  The topic is braking systems or how they work.  I'll show the students how to use the topic and turn it in to a main idea by beginning their sentence with it.  I'll ask,  "What are the key, important things you highlighted in the text?"  They will say things like, " brake systems have such and such part..." or "brakes save your life."  So, we'll take the topic "Braking Systems" + the important info and make a sentence.  For example:  Braking systems contain many parts that work together to protect drivers.  

To close, I'll ask my students to review some of the things they have learned about main ideas that they didn't realize before.  I am willing to bet that most say they didn't realize it should be a complete sentence.  : )