Main ideas and details are fundamental, core concepts every elementary student needs to master. It is the foundation of reading comprehension, writing and the organization of ideas. In fact, mastery of these abstract concepts can even help students improve memory, note taking skills and enhance their understanding of lessons.
What are Main Ideas and Details?
Main ideas are the most important central concept or claim that can be expressed visually in writing (often as a thesis or topic sentence) or orally in conversation. Details are single ideas that illustrate a point, explain a concept, or otherwise support the central idea. Details can be facts, descriptions, examples, quotations, or anecdotes.
How Can the Mastery of Main Ideas and Details Improve Student Learning?
- By understanding and utilizing the concepts of main ideas and details, students can make a conscious effort to organize and manage their learning. This can assist them with:
- Reading: Understanding main ideas and details helps students improve reading comprehension, and it can also help them conceptualize the overall schema.
- Writing: Mastery of main ideas and details helps students organize thoughts, so they can support the central idea and illustrate claims.
- Memory: Organizing one’s understanding of concepts into main ideas and details makes it easier to encode and then retrieve information at a later date.
- Note Taking: Utilizing main ideas and details when taking notes can help to keep notebooks organized and easy to navigate.
What are 8 Fun Ways to Teach this Important Skill?
- Make a list of 5 to 10 very different main ideas. Under each main idea list three supporting details. Now place all the main ideas and details onto their own index cards. When working with students, have them sort the 3 details under the correct main idea.
- Give your students 5 to 10 very different main ideas. In groups, ask them to come up with a list of five details that could go under each main idea.
- Place main ideas on a beach ball or balloon. Pass the ball around and ask the students to read the main idea that they first see when they catch the ball. Then ask them to come up with a supporting detail.
- Think of a main idea. Give one detail and see if the student(s) can guess the main idea. If not, give them another detail and let them guess again. Continue providing details until they figure out the main idea.
- Make a series of web diagrams that illustrate main ideas and 4 to 8 related details. Now delete some of the information, so that the students have to fill in the blanks. See image to right.
- Ask students to color code readings. Whenever they see a main idea, ask them to highlight this central concept with a specific color. Then ask them to underline all the details with the same color. When they see a new main idea, ask them to repeat the process but with a different color.
- Place main ideas and details onto about 10 to12 blank foam dice. Have the student roll the dice. Can they find any main ideas and supporting details that go together? If so, ask them to organize the dice and explain their reasoning. You can grant them a point for each of the dice that they are able to properly categorize.
- Write a series of main ideas onto cards. Then collect visual representations of details and print or paste them onto cards. For example, if you use the main idea transportation, you can have a picture of a car, plane, boat… Ask the students to place the image cards under the correct main idea.
If you would like to learn more about how I teach these lessons in a fun and multisensory way, check out these ready-made digital downloads:
- Main Idea Supporting Detail Lesson and Games: The Main I-deer Digital Download
- Hey, What's the Big Idea: Main Idea and Detail Game Download
- Higher Order Language Bundle
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Cheers, Dr. Erica Warren
Dr. Erica Warren is the author, illustrator, and publisher of multisensory educational materials at Good Sensory Learning. She is also the director of Learning to Learn and Learning Specialist Courses.
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