What’s the BIG Idea?

For years I have struggled with the concept of teaching students to find the main idea. When I first started off teaching I was a third grade teacher and it was one of the most challenging things for my students to understand. Now that I am a second grade teacher I am faced with the reality of teaching this standard once again but to younger students. As I was planning for this unit I was dreading how to do this. What worked well before? What did I do last year in 2nd grade that I could make better? How do I get the students to notice the difference between identifying a main topic and identifying the main idea. All these questions raced through my head as I began this endeavor this week.

The first thing I decided to change was how I introduced the idea. In previous years I had used the concept of main idea bags to introduce it. Main idea bags have different pictures of supporting details inside of them and the students must use the pictures to find the main idea. For example, there could be a picture of a campfire, tent, and sleeping bag and the students could assume that the main idea is “camping.”. I still wanted to do this with my students but I needed something more to steer them away from just stating a main topic and really think about how to find the main idea of something.

I decided to start with pictures. My students are already familiar with analyzing pictures as they do it every day for morning work. I took this idea and ran with it. To start off with I talked with students about what a main idea is and held up a chair. I explained that the part we sit on in the chair is the main idea and the legs are the supporting details. If the chair only had one leg would it stand? My students screamed “No!”. I explained that in order to have a main idea you need three or four supporting details or “legs” to “keep it up” or help to make it true. From here we watched a flocabulary video on main idea and then I showed them a picture.

The first picture I showed them was this:


First of all they were VERY excited that I was in the photo. We had a class discussion about what they noticed and what they thought the “main idea” of the photo could be. To my surprise my students were shouting out great ideas. As a class we came up with the main idea being: “Miss Griep is visiting Grandfather Mountain.” Next I prompted students to think about things in the photo that would “support” our sentence of me being at Grandfather Mountain. Some of the details we came up with were: “There is a bridge at Grandfather Mountain.” ” There are lots of different cliffs and hills to hike there.” “The sign shows Grandfather Mountain is in North Carolina”.

Next I had students take this skill and practice with a partner using a graphic organizer. I showed them another photo and students went to work. This is what they came up with:


“Miss Griep is running a race. She is running fast. She has a race bib with a number on it. She is competing against another girl during the race.”

The next day I decided to try this activity with photograph strips. Each student had a strip of pictures that were supporting details to a main idea. Students had to use their photograph strip to create a paragraph with a main idea. This also went well:











Overall I am very pleased with how this unit has started. I am excited to see where this takes us when we start analyzing texts and creating our own paragraphs from things we research.



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