Let’s Find the Main Ideas!

Reading to Learn
Kincey Hicks


For a child to be able to use and recall what they read, they need effective strategies for comprehension.  One of the most important comprehension strategies used by elementary children is summarizing.  Summarizing allows children to organize and compress large bodies of text into memorable ideas for easy recollection.  This lesson will give some options for teaching and implementing the summarizing strategy.

-Story of the Sea (1979 Childcraft).

1.  Begin the lesson by giving students the basic ideas of summarization.  This is best done by explaining that summarization is a reading tool that is used to help remember the most important facts about a text or passage.

2.  [In this lesson I will use the example of “The Sea in Danger” (page 101).] Have the students read “The Sea in Danger”.  This passage contains six paragraphs. Give the  students an opportunity to read silently to themselves. When they are through, ask very detailed questions about the reading like “How much water is pumped into the factories every day?” More than likely most students will not remember that small detail. Talk to your students about the difficulties in memorizing every minute detail of a passage and the importance of gathering main ideas from stories and how this is what summarizing is all about.

3.  Explain the six rules of summarization to students. a) Delete unimportant information, b) delete repeated information, c) substitute easy terms for lists of items, d) add a series of events with an easy action term, e) select a topic sentence, and f) invent a topic sentence if there is none.

4. Model the above rules for students to observe as a scaffold. Use a passage such as “The Sea in Danger.” Make a summary of this passage using the rules above for students to see.

5. Choose another passage to summarize such as: “Life in the Sea” (104). This time allow the class to work together on a summary.  As they come up with main details write them on the board to give another scaffolding example for those who don’t understand. It is a great way for children to see their peers thinking and creating.

6.  Divide students up into small groups.  Assign each group a different passage from Story of the Sea. Give time to write a summary on their passage. When they are finished, allow each group to share their summary with the class.

7.  For assessment, have each student choose a passage from Story of the Sea and have each student write a summary on their passage.

-Story of the Sea, The 1979 Childcraft Annual. Chicago: World Book-Childcraft International, Inc. 1979
-Sharon Gulls A Short Story: