This week, I've been working hard with my ESOL students (both 2nd and 4th grades) on Main Ideas & Supporting Details. This can be an extremely hard concept for many students to grasp, but it can be especially difficult for English language learners.
I've never enjoyed teaching main idea and details because of how frustrating it is for students- I get frustrated watching them. Plus, I've always had a really hard time finding a creative way to teach it. Not that there's anything wrong with the old "read a passage fill in a graphic organizer", but My students need something more creative and memorable to make it really stick. So, I needed to really search deep within the bowels of my brain. I came up with something that I liked, but you never really know how it will go until you give it a try, right?
Since my students often shut down when they see a block of text, I decided to (re)introduce main idea using pictures. I created a little worksheet with some pictures. The first picture was of a ship sinking. I asked students about what was happening in the picture. Of course, they all answered "The ship is sinking in the ocean". Then I asked them what else they saw in the picture. We talked about the water filling up the ship, that we could see that the ship was broken in half, and that we could see there were no other people around to help.
Together, we determined that the main idea, or most important idea in the picture, was that the ship was sinking. All the other things we could see were supporting details details. When asked them why they didn't say anything about the few clouds in the sky or the nice weather. "Because, Mrs. J, that doesn't have anything to do with the ship sinking!" one little firecracker responded. Exactly! This was the perfect opportunity to remind them that supporting details always tell us more about our main idea. If they don't, then they aren't really supporting details. I then had the students look at three more pictures and write a main idea for each one. We discussed as a class, then talked about the supporting details in each picture that helped us figure out the main ideas.
Then, I had created a "main idea match" by writing three different paragraphs, all about the same subject (in this case it was cats). I cut the paragraphs into strips with a sentence on each strip. My fourth graders had to identify the main ideas and then match the supporting details. For my 2nd graders, I had the main ideas identified, and they simply had to match the appropriate supporting details to the main ideas.
I will follow up with some "main idea bags". These bags will be full of pictures cut out of magazines. Each of the bags will have a common theme, I have a cute little worksheet where students will list the items in their bag, figure out what they have in common and how they can be used, and then determine the "main idea" of each bag. They will use their main ideas to create their own "main idea" paragraph.
I'm so excited, and the students really seemed to understand main idea for the first time all year! If you're struggling to make main idea understandable for your students, I've put these activities plus several more all together in my Main Idea Activities and Printables pack at TpT. It's only $3.50. Just click the picture below!