Monday, May 25, 2015

Teaching & Assessing Main Idea

A few months ago, I was perusing Pinterest, TPT, and other online sites to find ideas for how to teach main idea when I came across the blog, Crafting Connections, by Deb Hanson. I was immediately inspired by her blog post on main idea and knew that I wanted to implement her resources into my current unit, so to TPT I went!

As I looked through her TPT store, I found some resources I knew I needed to have! Her powerpoint on main idea would be the perfect way for me to introduce this concept to my students. There are so many things to love about Deb's powerpoint, but the two I love the most are: first, the ice cream cone analogy (my students still use this analogy even though its been a couple of months) and, second, the practice passages and questions that are included. So, on our very first day of main idea, I had my students sit in their rows in front of our SMARTboard with their whiteboard and markers in hand. As we read through the power point together, I had them doodle their thoughts onto the whiteboard. We drew an ice cream come and labeled all of the parts to help us remember the visual. When we got the practice passages and questions, I had the students write their answer on the whiteboards and use the "Chin In, Spin It" method to respond. I was so thrilled by the amount of engagement and learning that was happening in my classroom!

On our second day of main idea, I had my students pull out their reading notebook. We started by reading a FREE passage about beehives that Deb has in her store. After reading through it once, we glued down an ice cream cone into our notebooks, labeled to match the ice cream analogy from day one, and read through the passage, again. This time, though, we boxed the main idea, underlined the supporting details, and wrote each one in a complete sentence next to the correct spot on our color. As you will see in the picture, we color-coded each part to make our learning more visual!

After completing this activity, I divided the students up into groups of three or four and gave them the instructions for Deb's Main Idea and Details Craftivity. Working together, the students had to sort the correct support details, or the ice cream scoops, to the matching main idea. My students LOVED this activity and were thoroughly engaged in it! As I walked around the room, I heard some great discussions and knew that my students were starting to get a solid understanding of the concept.

However, I needed an independent activity to do a formative assessment that could help me decide where to go next. That is when I found Deb's Main Idea Task Cards. These cards are amazing! First, I love task cards, but these cards are truly a gem due to the game-spin Deb has put on them. The students, not only have to figure out the answers to the task cards, but also have to find out the answer to the riddle using their own answers! Its ingenious! Second, the passages and questions Deb asks on the cards interesting to the students, promote higher-thinking skills, and help students practice test-taking strategies.

To use the task cards, I printed them out, in color, on cardstock and laminated them. I did NOT cut each sheet into individual cards; instead, I keep them all together and taped them around the room. Then, I had my students sit in their rows and I explained that today they would be main idea detectives. It was their job to go around the room, find the main idea passages, read through them and then answer the questions. At the end, after reading each passage, they would be able to tell us which ice cream treat was the most popular (this is the game-spin Deb has on them). But, there was one catch, they couldn't help each other out! My students were so excited to begin. They quietly worked their way around the room, reading the cards and answering the questions.

Once everyone was done, I gathered them back together. I explained that I was going to read the answer, so we could see how well we did. The students were to only circle the answers they got incorrect. (We talked about how it was okay if we got something wrong, because we are learning.) After reading through the answers, I had the students tally how many they got incorrect in EACH column and write it underneath the columns. I did this because each column corresponds to a different type of question: main idea, title, and supporting question. From here, I used the data to create strategy-based groups for my small group instruction the following week. Some students would be working on finding the main idea, others on creating titles that matched the main idea, and still others on finding supporting details once they know the main idea.

I am so grateful to Deb and her amazing resources! They truly helped make this unit engaging and beneficial for my students. If you haven't already, I highly recommend checking out her blog and TPT store.


  1. Stopping over from Deb's blog to say hi! Good luck on your blogging journey!

    1. Thank you so much, Nancy! I am glad you stopped by!