Teaching Main Idea and Supporting Details

Main Idea and details are important reading comprehension skills readers need to develop. In this post, I have written some ideas and strategies to help you get started in teaching it to your early elementary students.

What is the main idea?
The main idea is the point the passage is written around. Main idea can be found in songs, poems, articles, and stories. It can be found in both fiction and non-fiction works.

What are the details?
Details helps the reader or listener learn more about the main idea and the main point. The author uses details to support the main idea and to give more information.

Reasons why to teach these to students
Learning these three skills altogether will help your students understand what they read, see, and hear better. Being able to pick out this information in pictures, discussions and readings will help them improve their overall comprehension skills. As students start reading more complex texts, it will help them summarize passages and understand them. These skills are the basis of good comprehension.

Tips on how to teach Main Idea and Details

Concrete Objects

Main idea is used a lot. We usually like a book, a song, etc. because we like the main idea. Just like in my inferencing blog post, I love to use concrete objects to teach abstract ideas. Kids usually love anything to do with snacks and deserts so I like to start there. You can use any recipe or food for this concrete way of showing main idea. For this example, I have collected a bundt cake pan and pictures of the items needed to make the cake. You can bring in a store bought cake to share after I like to first start off by showing the bundt cake pan. Students usually figure out that it is a cake pan quickly. You can say that is like the main idea. You know that we will be having cake.

Wait for the screams and excitement to settle down. Ask the students to generate the questions that have popped into their head? Explain to them, that the questions that pop into their head are usually the same questions the author will try to answer by using details.

Take out the pictures that are the ingredients and show them one by one all of the details. Explain that details support the main idea. In this case the main idea is a cake and the details are the pieces that will tell us how to make the cake and the flavor of the cake.

A great book to use with this lesson is Whopper Cake by Karma Wilson. (Affiliate Link).

Use Anchor Charts

Anchor charts are useful for both educators and students alike. Anchor charts are basically infographics that give students the overview of the lesson as well as step-by-step instructions or focal points in a lesson.

For this lesson, you can make an anchor chart about finding the main idea and details. You can use a table to represent main idea. Main idea is the table, details support the main idea, so in this case, they are the table legs.

Emphasize Titles

Helping students to pay attention to the title and subtitle of the books will give them clues.  Students need to understand how text structure can give them “clues” is an important skill. I can’t count how many times I have heard children say they gloss over titles and subtitles when they do indeed give a lot of information that can improver reading comprehension.

Point at Keywords

Ask your students to take note of words repeated throughout the text. These words are called keywords and they may or may not be highlighted. Not only will it help them pay more attention to keywords it will also help them improve their vocabulary by paying closer attention to it.

Pay Attention to First and Last Sentences

Another way to help your students figure out the main point and idea of the passage is to let them reread the first and last sentences. If it is a longer text have them read the first and last paragraphs. The first sentence introduces the idea of the text while the last sentence summarizes it. When students understand this, they will be better at understanding the structure of texts and identifying the main idea.

You can also find lots of YouTube Videos to help with lesson planning. Here is one that I found good and I got lots of ideas just watching it.

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My final tip to you is three words: let them practice. This is the time where I would teach the previous tips while giving them lots of texts to read and listen to. Start off with short and familiar stories and gradually increase to more complex texts. Doing this will help them practice identifying the main idea with your support until they are able to do it on their own.

What are some of your favorite strategies, please share in the comments below?