Teaching Main Idea in First Grade

Hello, I'm here to share some ideas for teaching main idea with your first graders.
Clip Art: Krista Wallden
But first- where have I been???? Obviously, not blogging! To say that I've had a busy month is an understatement!! I travelled to the International School of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to attend a spelling inquiry workshop given by Pete Bowers and Lyn Anderson (which was fabulous!!!) More on that later!
The Petronas Towers, downtown Kuala Lumpur

...and then I turned right around and went to the American International School of Chennai, India where we coached our track team in the championship meet. International schools train all season and may participate in a couple of local events, but the major competition is at the season's end. For this season-end championship, we actually travel to another country (unless we are hosting it at our school in Bangladesh) You can think of this championship like a state or district meet, but we don't have a long bus ride- we have to get on a plane! Anyway, we won first place! So rewarding after hours of practice! I could not have been more proud of how our student-athletes competed and showed true sportsmanship!!!
Here we all are upon arrival in Chennai! I'm off the the right with my hubby, Big Mike.
We love coaching together :)
Our team was "adopted" by some first graders! Here they are with some of our sprinters-
"Proud mama moment"- my son, Payton, won 1st in the discus! 
Our blurry victory photo!!! Exhausted, but happy!
Ok, so, back to the classroom! I introduced the concept if "main idea and details" using one's hand as an analogy. We talked about how the palm is the most important part of the hand; it's the center and connects all the fingers together. The fingers are like details because they allow us to do more than we would be able to do if we didn't have them. SO, the main idea is the central message and the details tell us more about that.
We've started a unit on living things and ecosystems, and that means reading nonfiction and research. One of the skills that students need is the ability to determine importance, or the main idea of a text. It can be tricky finding good quality nonfiction texts at a level that's appropriate for first grade. My teammate shared two books with me that are great for teaching main idea to firsties because of their straightforward organization and fairly simple text.

First up is Whose Has These Feet? by Laura Hulbert. This book is like the "Whose Is It?" series in which there are pictures that allow students to infer and make predictions.

Some of the animal feet are quite predictable, but there are a few that had me fooled, like this one...

Could this be a monkey???

No, it's a squirrel!
As you can imagine, the kids LOVE guessing (we use the term inferring! ;) what animal it could be! As you can see form the photo, the text follows a predictable easy-to-read pattern. I like how Laura Hubert explains how the animal's feet are well-suited to its environment and needs; we went back through and discussed these facts after reading the book the first time.

At the end of the book, there's a wonderful fold-out page that helps to summarize and bring the text to a close:

We have already studied informational books in writing workshop, so I reminded my students of the whole "authors as teachers" concept. We talked about what they thought Laura was trying to teach them (Whenever we discuss books, I refer to authors by their first name with my students to help them relate to authors as the REAL people that they are, and to help personalize the whole experience.) I also asked, "What's the most important thing Laura would want you to remember?" Most of their responses went something like, "Animals have different kinds of feet to help them live." Pretty great!

Another book we read was How to Hide a Butterfly by Ruth Hellers. This beautifully illustrated book is one in a series about camouflage. It focuses on how insects use camouflage for protection.
This rhyming text is fairly simple and follows a pattern of introducing an insect and the showing how it camouflages itself in its environment. Here's a peek at the beginning:
Source: Amazon

Source: Amazon
Source: Amazon
Can you see the butterfly? It's on the right, in the middle!
How to Hide A Butterfly is was just as engaging as the the other book. Students loved examining the illustrations, trying to find the hidden insect! So, after we read and discussed the story, we completed the following graphic organizer:

If you'd like a copy, head on over to my facebook page and pick up this fan freebie! I also included a blank butterfly organizer that may be used with any text!

This was guided practice, so I modelled on the chart below as students recorded the main idea and details.
You might notice that I underlined some digraphs and vowels ; I like to do this as a way to reinforce
word study concepts in context.

The primary goal is thinking to determine importance, not writing or spelling, however, since this was our anchor lesson for using graphic organizers to record our thinking about the main idea, I did have students write everything. We wrote complete sentences, but you could also easily write only the key words. I don't usually ask my first graders do a lot of writing when sharing their thinking because I find that it slows them down.  As we continue to practice finding the main idea and details in small groups, we will do so only verbally most times, while using an organizer to record key words at other times.

How do you teach "main idea and details" in primary grades?

1 comment

  1. Could Who Has These Feet be used to talk about conclusions? Using the picture to draw conclusions about who you think the feet belong too? Thank you

    S. Krause


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