The following main idea activities will support you as an educator as you scaffold instruction for your 2nd or 3rd graders.
They’re primarily helpful for your learners progressing below grade level in reading.
To complement these activities, don’t forget to check out this step-by-step guide to teaching main idea to elementary learners.
I realize how frustrating it can be to teach something as abstract as main idea.
I mean, really…
How in the world do you teach the “gist” of something?
How Do You Explain Main Idea to Kids?
Because finding the main idea is such an abstract concept, it’s helpful to begin using examples a bit more concrete.
There’s where this post comes in…
I’ve got 3 main idea activities that I’ve used repeatedly over the years to yield real results with elementary students, especially our little friends reading below grade level.
Use these main idea activities as mini-lessons, small group activities, or literacy centers until the majority of your students master the general concept of finding the main idea of a selection.
While it will take more time to deepen students’ understanding of main idea as they advance to more difficult texts, the following activities will help your learners actually understand the main idea (no pun intended) of the reading skill main idea.
And that’s the solid foundation you need in order to progress to more challenging texts.
Okay…so let’s dig into it!
1. Main Idea Word Sorts
Word sorts are great for introducing or reviewing main idea.
This activity is best done as a whole class or in small groups.
Here’s what you do…
- As you’re prepping, brainstorm a few simple main idea topics you’d like to use in order to introduce the concept. Examples include planets, pets, fruits, days of the week, sports, renewable resources, clothes, book genres, etc. The possibilities are endless! (Choose 4-6 main idea topics.)
Caution! Choose topics with which your students have a connection. Prior knowledge is a key component in reading comprehension.
Here’s an example list of ideas I’ve brainstormed…
(These word sort examples above are super easy, but I just want you to get the gist of the activity! 😉)
2. Now, with these main idea topics in mind, create about 6 detail cards for each main idea topic. Below you can see the examples I have for each main idea topic that I chose.
3. Next, make a copy of the sheet (above) for each student, pair, or small group. Students cut the words and sort them on a columned graphic organizer. Or, if you’re a teacher minimalist like me, just have them record their sorting in their readers’ notebook.
4. As students sort, they decide the main idea of each group.
What’s important here is the conversation/discussion piece.
As students sort, encourage whole class or group dialog about WHY they are sorting/categorizing a particular way.
2. Main Idea Mobile Activity
Kind of boring!
You can take a simple graphic organizer and turn it into a more engaging main idea activity like I did here with this main idea mobile.
My second and third graders absolutely loved creating this main idea mobile!
I know some parents give teachers the side eye when a hands-on project is assigned (sorry parents!), so I’m happy to tell you that this mini project fits easily into your daily lesson plan.
Students simply bring a hanger to school, and that’s it.
Low-prep and most importantly, effective!
All that’s needed is a hanger, some string, and the shape templates which students can draw themselves or trace from various shapes.
3. Main Idea Memory Game
Task cards are essentially worksheets with an interactive twist.
But I’ve taken it a bit further by creating a main idea memory game.
You know the game Memory, right?
Students have a batch of cards, half with questions/scenarios and the other half with the answers.
They place all of the cards face down in an array, and one at a time, a player pulls two cards.
The goal is for the two cards to match: one with the question and the other with the answer.
If the two cards aren’t a match, the player has to replace the two cards face down, and the next player draws.
Now the theory is that each time a player has to replace two mismatched cards, all players should mentally keep track of cards that do match because players only receive points when they have a match!
That’s essentially how the game of Memory works.
If a player has a match, he or she keeps that pair, and the game continues as such until no pairs remain.
From my experience, elementary kids really enjoy this main idea activity and ultra focus their energies to the task because there’s a competitive edge to it.
As long as the competition is healthy, I’m all for it!
What better way to reinforce the skill of finding the main idea than with a low-prep learning center activity that encourages students to practice repeatedly within a relatively short amount of time?
That’s what the main idea memory game accomplishes, and I’m confident that your 2nd, 3rd, and even 4th graders will benefit from it.
If you’d like this activity, grab your main idea memory game here! You’ve now got one less activity to plan for during your main idea unit.
Can I Use These Activities for Main Idea Guided Reading Lessons?
These 3 interactive main idea activities fit best as mini-lessons or literacy centers.
If you make literacy centers part of your guided reading block, excellent!
Guided reading is the perfect time for learners to put into practice the main idea skills/strategies that they just reviewed or learned about in the mini-lesson.
They’ll do this using independent reading books and other texts.
Introducing or reviewing main idea to your 2nd and 3rd graders need not be frustrating or boring.
Pencil in these easy, yet effective main idea activities into your lesson plan book, and you’ll soon see your students strengthening their understanding of main idea.
Let’s do things smarter, not harder.
That’s always my motto.
Until next time,
This article originally appeared at Elementary Assessments.