The Who, What, and Why

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SWBAT determine the main idea of an informational text.

Big Idea

What questions should I ask while reading a text to help me determine the main idea?


In this unit students will work on learning how to identify key ideas and support those ideas with details from what they are reading. The lessons in this unit introduce students to interacting with the text and analyzing what they are reading. Students will learn to actively read passages by asking and answering driving questions while reading.


10 minutes

To introduce the lesson, I tweaked the old lesson of looking at the 5Ws, Who, What, When, Where, and Why. Instead of immediately telling students I want you to read for the 5Ws, I asked students to think about all the elements they typically see in a story. I wanted students to think about what do others usually write about and what do they usually tell you in a story. After discussing, redirecting, and clarifying what I wanted students to hone in on, we arrived at the 5Ws. After our discussion, I explain to students that in today’s lesson we will be looking for the 5Ws in a literary text and will later use the 5Ws to help us determine some important information about the story.


15 minutes

It is important to explicitly show students how to read a text with a purpose. I will model this for students a lot over the next several weeks so students become as skilled at doing this as possible. As we begin I show students a short passage on the smart board. I model for students how to analyze the text while I read. I tell students that it is important for them to really think about the 5Ws while they read and not just read the words. As I read, I talk through the text. For example, if I come across a who or a what, I say aloud, I keep seeing this over and over again so this must be who or what the passage is about. Moving through the passage, I say things like, “ Oh this is why this happen.” Or “This is important to think about.” It is very important to model for students what should be going through their mind as they analyze the text. As I am thinking aloud, I also make notes on the text to answer my questions and to keep track of the notes I’ve made while reading. Now students have an opportunity to try for themselves. 

Collaborative Learning Opportunity

25 minutes

I think collaborative learning opportunities are great for students when trying out new strategies. I divide the class into groups of 5 and place a set of Who, What, When, Why, and Why cards (see resources) at each group. I instruct students to each pick a card and read the story with the purpose of answering their chosen question. The cards have space on the back for students to answer their questions. This works with any story as it is a simplistic way to begin looking at the main idea of a passage. I chose the story A Fine, Fine School by Sharon Creech. While students read, I posted hints on an anchor chart (see resources) I made prior to the lesson. I reminded students to think about these hints while they are reading to answer their question. After students read and answer their questions, I had them discuss each of their answers with their group. I encouraged students to talk about each other’s responses and make any changes they thought were necessary. I joined each group’s conversations to make sure students were on the right track. 

Wrap Up

10 minutes

After students talk through the story, we come back together as a whole group. We discussed students’ responses to each question. I then asked students how they felt reading to answer the 5Ws helped them better understand the story. We discussed students’ reflections and I collected students’ answers to look at and determine where to go in the next lesson.