Digging Deeper Into the Central Idea

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SWBAT determine the main idea of a text by focusing in on the plot.

Big Idea

How can I determine the main idea of a text without getting wrapped up in too many details?


10 minutes

I begin this lesson with talking with students about telling a friend about a movie that they have seen or a book that they have read. I start by telling students how I don’t like for people to tell me about a movie or a book by telling me everything that happens. I only like for people to tell me just enough to give me an idea about the book or movie. I compare this to giving the main idea. As readers, we have to be able to focus in on the important parts of a story we are reading and not get too weighed down with all the details. We review the story A Fine, Fine School and discuss briefly the Who, What, When, Where, and Why. I tell students to remember how we focused our reading on one of the 5 Ws to determine what the main idea of the story was. Today’s lesson has students do the same thing.  

Mini Lesson

15 minutes

Instead of reading for the 5Ws, today we are going to watch and listen for the 5 Ws. I am a fan of several Dr. Seuss stories that teach some valuable lessons about life, so I decide to use one of my favorites for students to practice with, The Lorax. I use the original because it is only about 25 minutes long and allows me to use in one class sitting. It is also a good way to integrate science and the subject of conservation into with reading. Today’s lesson will be a collaborative lesson where students are divided into 5 groups. Each group will focus on a different question. Before we begin watching the movie, I give each group a question and we begin talking about what students should look for when answering each question. Each group will focus on one of the questions. Using an anchor chart (see resources) that students can copy into an interactive notebook as well as review in the classroom, we talk about more specific questions students should answer while watching the movie that relate to the 5 Ws. As we review the chart, we look at the following questions to focus our watching:

  • Which character or characters are important in the story and why?
  • What is the “who” doing?
  • Why is the “who” doing this?
  • Is there a problem? If so, why?
  • Is there something the main character needs or wants? If so, what is it and how is this important to the story?
  • Where is this story taking place and is this important to the central idea of the story?
  • When this is story taking place and is this important to the central idea of the story?

After reviewing and discussing the questions, students are given a note taking sheet to use to jot down their thoughts while watching the movie. Students are encouraged to use the questions to guide their thinking. Each student must take notes while Watching as this will be their ticket out the door. At the beginning of the unit, students worked on being active readers and being aware of the thoughts while reading. This activity builds on this by motivating students to focus their thoughts on questions that relate to what the outcome of their reading or in this case their watching and listening. 

Guided Practice

20 minutes

After students have watched the movie and have taken notes, they are to discuss their findings and work together to explain the answer to their question. Students work together to explain their findings in no more than two sentences that the share with the rest of the class. Students write their responses on the back of their question cards (see resources). I tell students to decide who will be the scribe for the group and who will speak for the group as they share their answers with the class. While the groups are discussing, I circulate the room to join in on the discussion and help students where needed. 

Wrap Up

10 minutes

To sum up the lesson, we come together as a class and discuss the main idea of the story. During this time our purpose is to discuss the main idea of the story. The important events experienced by the characters. We discuss what students have gathered from the story in attempt to verbally summarize the story. As we close, I tell students that we will look more closely at the story in the next lesson.


To assess students’ grasp of this activity, I look at their note taking sheets to determine if students understood how to answer the questions and keep their focus on the main idea of the story.