What’s the Main Idea??

Rationale: Comprehension is a major goal of reading.  To comprehend the meaning of text, students must know certain strategies in order to be successful.  Form a 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 the text that is listed above.

1. Introduce lesson by explaining that many times when we read, we are trying to learn something, and other times we are reading for fun.  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 find the main idea in the 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.  This is a very difficult task for some students, and it is very important that we take the time necessary to work with students on mastering this so they can comprehend the material that they need to learn.

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
The paragraph should be read out loud to the class.  There is a lot of information in this paragraph, some necessary and some unnecessary, but I want to figure out what the main idea is so that the information will really be comprehended and learned.  The main subject of the paragraph is the sun.  The fact that the sun is a star is a very important piece of information.  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 finding the main ideas and then writing topic sentences.  For each paragraph decide what the main idea is and make a sentence that cover these ideas.  Let each student share their sentences with the class.

5. Assess the students with a worksheet with a sample paragraph.  List four sentences, there are many possibilities that are given in this section; one being an obvious and well-written topic sentence, the others other choices that have to do with the information.  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.

Ginger Howell
Reading to Learn

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