What’s the Main Idea??
Reading to Learn
Amy Vest

Rationale:  Comprehension is a major goal of reading.  To comprehend the meaning of text, students should know certain strategies to use.  Forming a simple topic sentence that captures the meaning of a paragraph is an effective type of summarization that improves memory of text information.  This lesson will help students learn how to form a topic sentence as a form of summarization.  They will accomplish this through modeling and practice.

Materials: overhead projector, transparency with a paragraph from textbook (sample in step 3), science textbook-Discovery Works (Silver Burdett Ginn, 1996, pg. B27-28), assessment page with 2 paragraphs from text.

Procedures: 1.  Introduce the lesson by explaining that many times when we read, we are trying to learn something.  Sometimes it is hard to learn what we need to because there is so much information in the textbook.  Many times there is a lot of extra, unimportant information in the text.  An easy way to remember what we read is to figure out what the most important information is in a paragraph and form a topic sentence for that paragraph.

2.  We all know how to read silently.  We say the words in our heads or quietly to ourselves.  As we read silently today, we are going to be thinking about the main ideas of our text so that we can form a topic sentence and learn the information.

3.  Put up an overhead transparency that has a paragraph from the students’ science (or other subject) textbook.  This is an example:
     “Like the twinkling dots that we see in the night sky, the sun is a star.  Compared to other stars, the sun isn’t very large.  But to us it looks much bigger than the others because it’s by far the closest star to Earth.” pg. B27
Read the paragraph out loud to the class.  There is a lot of information in this paragraph, but I want to figure out what the main idea is so that I will really learn it.  The sun is obviously the main subject of the paragraph.  The fact that the sun is a star is very important.  It doesn’t seem quite as important that the sun isn’t big compared to the other stars and it is close to Earth.  I think “The sun is a star” covers the main idea of this paragraph and is the important information that I need to learn.

4.  Have students read silently about the Sun on pages B27 and B28 of the science textbook Discovery Works.  We’re going to practice writing topic sentences.  For each paragraph pick out the main ideas and make a sentences that cover these ideas.  Invite students to share their sentences with the class.

5.  Assess the students with a worksheet with a sample paragraph.  List four sentences; one being an obvious and well-written topic sentence.  The students will choose the sentence that is the best topic sentence.  Include another paragraph for which the students will use the main ideas to write their own topic sentences.

Reference: Pressley, Michael.  The Elementary School Journal: Strategies That Improve Children’s Memory and Comprehension of Text.  September 1989.  pg. 4-5.

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