“What’s the Big Idea?” Determining What the Author is Trying to Convey

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SWBAT determine what is important for them to know about the topic they are reading about.

Big Idea

How can I determine what is important and what is not when I read nonfiction text?


5 minutes

Continuing with our unit on determining importance, I introduced this lesson with a quick review of our anchor chart. When we left off from yesterday’s lesson, we looked at what we thought was really important based on details. I remind students that it is important to think about what the author really wants you to know. Next, I encourage students to read for evidence and details that support the idea or ideas they see frequently in the text.


15 minutes

After viewing the anchor chart, I introduce the idea of looking for the “big Idea” through a modeled lesson. Looking at another section of the same article from the previous lesson on National Geographic Explorer, I model for students how to use the text features, illustrations, captions, etc. to make a guess about the “Big Idea”. I tell students that I’m going to choose one word that I think expresses the author’s main idea of the text. As I’m thinking, I have the students think too. I point out the pictures of lightning striking, the captions nearby and determine that the word I want to use is lightning. I ask students if they agree with me and have them cite evidence from the illustrations and other text features. Next, I use a graphic organizer with the word lightning in the middle and begin to read the passage. As I’m reading, I ask students to touch their chest with their thumb if I read anything that supports the idea of lightning. As we continue to read, I jot down the ideas that I feel are important and that support the “Big Idea”. I explain to students that this allows them to organize their thoughts while they read so they can better understand the text and determine what is important to the main or “Big Idea”. We briefly discuss the ideas and then move into the guided reading section of the lesson where students get to look for the “Big Idea” using an article on their instructional level.

Guided Reading

50 minutes

Each day during our reading instruction, we work in small guided reading groups where students meet with me to learn and practice active reading strategies with a text that is on their instructional reading level. While I meet with my guided reading groups, the other students are working in literacy centers on activities that reinforce this unit’s focus strategies and standards. This section of our reading today is divided into the follow parts. Each part is done so students have a clear focus on the strategy they are learning and practicing.

  • Before Reading- Before we actually begin to read, I ask students to take a look at their article. I ask them to do what I did during the mini-lesson and look at their article and sum up in one word what they think the “Big Idea” is. I ask students to share their thoughts with me and the group. I also ask students to explain what evidence or details led them to their choice. (see video)
  • During Reading- While students are reading, I ask them to use a graphic organizer to jot down evidence that supports their choice of the “Big Idea”. In the center circle, students are asked to place their “Big Idea”. Then in the surrounding circles, students were asked to list the details and evidence that helped support their idea. I also told students that they could change their choice if they noticed while they were reading that their choice may not be correct. As students read and worked, I talked with individual students scaffolding where needed. I asked each student to read aloud so I can monitor their reading. I also speak with some students using questioning that helps me to monitor their comprehension and determine if they have grasped what they are doing.
  • After Reading- When students are done, I mention some of the interactions students were having with the text. We talked about students using fix up strategies as they read and making sure the information they were focusing on was important and supported what the author was trying to tell them.

Assessment: During this time we reviewed students’ graphic organizers and determined the “big Idea” of the text and what the author was trying to tell us. 

Wrap Up

10 minutes

We came back together as a whole group and talked about why it was important to attempt to establish a main idea before reading. I wanted students to understand that this helps them set a purpose for reading which in turn helps you distinguish between what is important and what isn’t.