Topic, Main Idea, and Details

ice cream sundae

The three dreaded pieces of a reading assignment to any student. Most students take a stab at a word in the first sentence to find topic and main idea and then pick something from the middle for a detail. There’s a 50/50 chance they will get partial points using that strategy. Well, hold on to your hats; I have a better way.

I attended another professional development class from my favorite source for good reading strategies– KUCRL. This time, I got some tips for helping students identify topic, main, idea, and detail.

  1. To find the topic of a paragraph or article, use the sentence prompt, “This paragraph/article is about _____.” The one or two words that complete the sentence is the topic. If a student is still lost, the topic will often appear in the title and/or first or last sentence of the paragraph, so look there while using the prompt.
  2. To find a main idea within a paragraph, locate the topic first. Then ask yourself, “What does this paragraph tell me about the topic?” Insert your topic at the end of the question. The answer to your question is the main idea.
  3. To find important details, use the main idea. Ask yourself, “What is specific information about the main idea?” Insert your main idea at the end of the question. The ideas that answer the question are the key details.

Read the paragraph and give it a try.

perfect ice cream sundae paragraphTopic: This paragraph is about ice cream sundaes.

Main Idea: What does this paragraph tell me about ice cream sundaes? This paragraph talks about sundae ingredients. The main idea is ice cream sundae ingredients.

Details: What is specific information about the ingredients? Key details are ice cream flavors, sauces, and different kinds of toppings.

These prompts help with standardized test preparation for reading comprehension. They also work well when looking for the important “stuff” while reading textbooks. Finally, this is a great way to pick out the essential information in any non-fiction reading assignment. It provides a structured way for students to weed out non-important details and zero in on the meat of the text in order to take notes for research projects or preparing for class discussion and tests.

If you are looking for teaching materials that help with these skills, visit my Teachers Pay Teachers store to purchase activities that reinforce reading skills like topic, main idea, details, and paraphrasing.

Relax with a Magazine

cricket magazine

Sometimes, no matter what great books we try to coax children into reading, they just can’t get through a chapter book. Struggling readers can be overwhelmed by the length of longer reading selections, and they need materials that can be completed in one session. Picture books work but may give the impression that they are intended for little kids. Magazine subscriptions are a great alternative for school aged kids who are reluctant or struggling readers.

For information about using magazines to encourage struggling readers and improve comprehension, visit my guest blog post at EasyReadSystem. The article also includes a list of children’s magazine subscriptions and links for ordering.

egypt kids discover

And, a little grandparent tip– my parents give each of my children a magazine subscription every year for Christmas. My kids love (1) getting mail and (2) getting new “stories” every month.

Click here to read the full article and get names of magazine titles and ordering information.

Novel Ideas

Gather round readers. I am about to reveal a handful of literature gems. Each year, I teach about six novel studies with the whole class. We complete activities related to the book that hopefully enhance reading comprehension and improve critical thinking and writing skills. I have a wide range of readers, so I have to be careful with my book and activity choices. The plot of the book and writing assignments must be accessible to my lower readers but keep the higher readers engaged.

Below is a list some of my favorite literature activities. I am hoping you educators might see a novel idea (see how I slipped in that play on words?) that you could use in your classroom this year. But, I always need new ideas to keep things interesting. Do you have any suggestions for me?

Point of View Journals

  • After reading the first chapter of a book, each student selects one of the main characters. I ask them to re-tell the chapter from the point of view of the selected character. We share samples with the whole class and compare the differences in the re-telling. Why is one character’s story different from another? The students complete this task for every chapter, writing 4-5 sentences per chapter. The students stick with the same character throughout the book. Once students make their character choice, they may not change.
  • I used this with THE INCREDIBLE JOURNEY by Sheila Burnford. We called them “Incredible Journals” and students became one of the three animals throughout the book.  I also used this activity with THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE by C.S. Lewis. Students had to choose Lucy or Edmund.

narnia map and journal sample

Antique Maps

  • Give each student a ledger sized piece of white copy paper (11×17). Legal paper will work too; letter sized is too small. Dip a tea bag in cold water for several minutes, carefully squeeze out excess water, and “paint” the entire piece of paper until it is a tannish color. Let paper dry. When it is dry, it will be this nice crinkly texture and look like parchment paper.
  • The students then create a map of the setting of the novel. For THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE by C.S. Lewis, students have to search for passages in the book that give clues about where key locations are in the story. They use the clues to build a map of Narnia. This is HARD for 4th graders! I have a Narnia Map Handout, and we do the first few locations together. Students are then allowed to work in pairs. In THE WHITE MOUNTAINS by John Christopher, the main characters travel from England to the Swiss Alps, but it is in the future after an alien invasion. Readers must use descriptions in the book and knowledge of maps of Europe to piece together the route the main characters take (used this with 6th graders).
  • I have also used the antique paper with an activity for THE EGYPT GAME by Zilpha Keatley Snyder. After researching pharaohs, students pretended they were a pharaoh. They created a name and wrote a description of their life as a pharaoh on the antique paper. If you have laser printers, you can print the story, then stain it with the tea bags. Ink jet printed papers will smear.

white mountains map cropped

 

Amazon Book Listing

  • Students design an Amazon book listing for THE LEMONADE WAR by Jacqueline Davies. The students wrote a catchy book summary and included basic book information. They also provided a “star” rating and provided three additional book suggestions in the “Frequently Bought Together” section, so we built a book recommendation list at the same time.
  • Grab the AMAZON BOOK LISTING TEMPLATE HERE.

Amazon book listing sample3

Character Resumes

  • We read a few sections of THE MISSING GOLDEN TICKET by Roald Dahl. This is a great book to kick off discussions about the writing process. It includes a chapter from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory with an additional nasty character that Dahl edited out. My students design their own rotten child with a bad habit (a la the Chocolate Factory characters) and build a CHARACTER RESUME for that character. Not only does it help with characterization, it also is a good way to teach word processing skills.

character resume

Novel Newspaper

  • This will work with any novel. I have used it with DANNY, THE CHAMPION OF THE WORLD by Roald Dahl. This is a culminating activity after finishing the book. The students create a DANNY NEWSPAPER with 3 articles. The first article is a feature article with quotes. The students must think like a reporter and write a description of the climax scene of the story. They imagine what the main characters might have said on the scene and incorporate quotes from the characters that fit. The second article is an editorial about whether it is acceptable to poach or not. The third article is a book review. The students create the paper in MS Word and use a variety of word processing skills– section breaks, borders, column changes. All of my students’ finished products are pretty impressive.

danny newspaper sample

  • Look at copies of your local newspaper before starting this assignment. Note common layout details on the newspaper and incorporate those into the assignment– newspaper name, date, volume number, author byline… Also note the writing style in a paper. Important facts are in the first paragraph followed by lesser details.

I have many low prep, high engagement novel units available in my teacher store. Click the bold novel titles above to be linked to the resource listing, or CLICK HERE to see the full list.