Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Main Ideas: Two Ways, One Day

Today was our first day back to school after the holiday break.


I jumped right into the instruction, taking advantage of the mini-honeymoon period after the break to do some tough teaching. Today we looked at main idea from two different perspectives--creating details to support a main idea, and writing a main idea to fit the details.

Creating details to support a main idea
In writing class, students started writing paragraphs about their holiday break. They chose whether their holiday break was relaxing, eventful, or exciting. Then, they used a graphic organizer to collect details to support that main idea.

In this case, students were working from main idea to small details. (The entire lesson is free over at TeachersPayTeachers.) It went surprisingly easily. Students eagerly got to work, and were able to choose the details from their holiday break to support the main idea that they had chosen.

Writing a main idea to fit the details
In reading class, students went in the opposite direction. We've been researching various topics related to Antarctica. Today, students put together their notes and created main ideas based on the information they had collected.

I modeled the process with an example sheet that I had created. Here, we looked at the details. Red salamanders:

-Can be found under rocks
-Can be found under logs
-Build burrows underground
-Live in the water in winter

In typical fourth grade fashion, many students jumped into writing, "Where the red salamander lives."

"No," I said. "Remember, a main idea needs to be in a sentence! What is the sentence that you could write?"

"Um--this is about where the red salamander lives?"

It took a little bit of pulling teeth, but one student finally suggested, "Red salamanders live in different places." Great! This is definitely supported by the details. Another one said, "Red salamanders live under a variety of things." I liked this main idea sentence because every one of the details does relate to that idea of under, and the sentence showed that pretty nicely.

In the next example, students showed a little more independence. We read the details aloud and talked about how they all related to the appearance of the red salamander.

"What the red salamander looks like," one student wrote. I sighed, thought of the lost holiday break, and jumped in again. "Remember," I said, "A main idea needs to be stated in a sentence."

"The red salamander is colorful," another student wrote. This main idea is very much supported by the details--notice that all of the details have color words!

Some students noticed that the red salamander is not always red. They struggled with how to put this idea into words. After looking at various examples of a main idea, I modeled the use of the word despite.

Despite its name, the red salamander can be may different colors.

I'll be curious to see if the word despite makes its way into any of their finished reports!

Next, of course, the students will be using the same graphic organizer that they used for the holiday writing prompt to organize their research notes. Notice how this is the opposite of the first activity. Instead of choosing details to support a main idea, students will be crafting a main idea to fit the details.

Writing with main ideas in two different ways in one day--that day being the first one back from break--was actually easier than I thought. Both lessons strengthened one another. The message of supporting main ideas with details was clearly conveyed in two different ways.

And now it's just two more days until the weekend!


  1. Do you have these worksheets in your products or are they in one of your books?

  2. Hi Nikki! I've just added those worksheets to the Main Idea and Details teaching pack that I have:

    But I'll email them to you as well. :)