Teaching Main Idea to Elementary Students

At first, this concept of “main idea” can be tricky for young students, but after you teach it to them, they will be able to identify the main idea easily. Here are some ways to help with teaching main idea to students and help them better understand this concept. 

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What is The Main Idea? 

The main idea is basically what the passage or story is all about. Students get confused sometimes because the story might also talk about something else with great detail, but may not be the main idea or focus of the overall story. These are called “supporting details.” In order to distinguish some story details from the main idea, the entire story should be read, and not just bits and parts of the story. Supporting details will be smaller details that will support a more broad idea. Remember that the main idea is broad and general, and the supporting details are more complex and detailed. 

Summarize

Break the story down and talk about each paragraph after it has been read. Sometimes students have very short attention spans, and so summarizing each paragraph and helping them understand what they just read is the most helpful. Reading comprehension is what should be established before the concept of main idea is introduced. 

Practice is key!

The more often students practice finding the main idea, the quicker and easier finding the main idea will become. Students need practice so that as the context and stories become more complex, the easier it will become for them to understand. Their reading comprehension will also improve as well.

Make it fun

If you assign the same assignment over and over, students will become annoyed or frustrated that they keep having to do the same thing over and over. Try switching it up without them realizing. Instead of using the words “main idea” try using a different language. To also help them practice, let the focus of the assignment be something different, like asking questions about the store. For example “What did Charlie find when he opened his candy bar?” and then in going over the answers, simply ask the students, “what do you think the main idea of the entire story was?” Focusing on the main idea, does not have to be the main focus every single time you have the students read, but help them to try and understand and find what the main idea is each time.

Finding Clues

If your students are not understanding what the main idea of the story is, help them to find clues in the store. Have them look at titles, key words, and first and last sentences. Also opening and closing paragraphs should be focused on. Try looking at the photos if there are any. Key words will be words that are bolded in the reading, or they could be headings and titles. All of these will help to hint at the main idea, but they do not always. Oftentimes the title will help you figure out what the main topic of the story will be. This is your first step to help you determine the main idea.

Pre-reading

A good starting activity to do with the students would be to have them just use these clues and to take some guesses before starting to read. Have them look at the cover, look at the pictures, look at the titles and chapter headings and make their guesses. What do you think the main idea could be just by observing before you even begin reading? This will help get their brain in the right mindset and will help them to be looking for more information about what the focus of the story will be about.