Identifying the main idea and key details is a challenging task for third graders so I try to find multiple ways to teach the concept. This provides all students the opportunity to learn and adopt a strategy that works for them. In this lesson, I used a four-section graphic organizer to show students how the number of supporting details helps determine the main idea.
This method was in conjunction with our upcoming state assessment. The assessment is multiple choice, so I used that format to teach the concept. I showed students how to fold a large sheet of paper into four sections and label each section A,B,C, and D. Using the document camera so that all students could see, I modeled reading the passage and writing the answer choices in the corresponding section. Next, I modeled writing key details from the passage underneath each possible answer. I also highlighted the details in a different color to make the connection with previous lessons where we highlight key details in different colors. Finally, I showed students how the answer choice with the most supporting key details was the most likely answer.
This method made it easy to meet the parts of the standard which requires students to recount key details and explain how they support the main idea. I modeled reading the list of key details aloud and explaining how they support the main idea. I guided students through doing this with another passage to ensure they understood the concept. Writing the sentences took a bit of time, but I wanted to make sure students saw the connection between the amount of supporting details, what the passage is mostly about, and the main idea.
I wanted students to share their thinking with others so I had them work in self-selected small groups. I walked around and listened as they worked. They shared their rationale and challenged and supported each other. For example, one student in a group was unsure of where to write a key detail on the graphic organizer. Another student provided support by asking, “Where do you think it makes sense?” The student thought a bit more and indicated where it should go. The group agreed and wrote it in the section. Students questioning and supporting each other increases learning for all.
I assessed students on the number of answers they got correct after reading three passages. More importantly, I assessed their ability to identify key details in connection with a possible main idea. 90% of my students were able to do that.
In closing, I randomly called on students to state the main idea of the passages they read during independent practice. They also had to list the key details and explain how they supported the main idea. I did this to give them practice explaining their answers. One student gave the following response: The main idea is how coconut seeds grow into trees. It is the main idea because the key details say it is actually a seed, how the seeds grow like the green shoots feed off the juice and white part, and how the roots start to come out. And then it begins to grow into a beautiful coconut tree.