Monday, November 12, 2012

Scaffolding Main Idea

Last week we read "Touching the Sky" from the November 5th edition of Scholastic News. Though the topic of Native Americans building skyscrapers in big cities was not really related to anything we were covering in class, I chose the article because it came with a great graphic organizer for main idea and supporting details, something my students can always use practice on. (If you don't use Scholastic News in your classroom, you should check it out at - great current non-fiction with activities aligned to the Common Core.)

What I had thought would be a quick revisit to a familiar skill, turned out to be a real eye-opener for me. As we worked through the main idea/details graphic organizer after a shared reading of the article, I realized that many of my students really aren't proficient at identifying main idea. The lesson left me feeling concerned, because I know my students need a strategy that will allow them to reliably determine the main idea of a passage. Upon reflection, I knew I had to go back and reteach main idea, but with a more concrete strategy.

All of this was in the back of my mind, as I looked for a shared reading passage for Veterans Day over the weekend. As I read "Hugs for Heroes: The Story of Bailey Reese" from, I was first attracted by the relevance of the the article. The girl in the story was about my students' age, and she lived in an area that had been affected by a severe hurricane. I knew my students could really relate to Bailey's story, but as I worked with the article, I realized it had an even greater value. It turns out the article is a perfect tool for teaching main idea and supporting details.

By using a strategy guide that spells out the steps for identifying both stated and implied main ideas, in conjunction with the article, I know I can really show my students how to successfully identify the main idea of a paragraph or short passage. Here is the strategy guide:

What makes the "Hugs for Heroes" article so perfect is that each paragraph has its main idea in a different place: first sentence, last sentence, middle sentence, and implied. To scaffold the skill even further, I have marked the text like this:

Now, I feel like my students have all the tools they need to practice an explicit strategy for finding main idea. We can break into small groups with the article and the strategy guide tomorrow and get some effective guided practice with main idea and supporting details. We're going to use main idea and supporting details to complete an outline of the article. I marked the paragraphs in the article to match the Roman Numerals on the outline. The kids will highlight the stated main idea sentences before paraphrasing them on the outline. They'll have teacher support as they figure out the implied main idea in the last two paragraphs. The outline looks like this:

If you remember, I teach in an inclusion class. 10 of my 25 students have IEP's for reading and/or math so I further modified this assignment for my students with reading IEP's. Since I know that just finding the stated main idea is going to be taxing for them, I supplied the implied main ideas from paragraphs IV and V on their outlines. My co-teacher will use the last two paragraphs to model finding implied main idea, and the lesson will be differentiated appropriately.

I don't think it's what edHelper intended this article to be used for when they published it, but it meets the learning needs of my students perfectly. I can tell this will be one of those touchstone lessons we refer back to throughout the year. I'm especially happy with the strategy guide for finding main idea, and I know it's hard to read here. If you'd like a copy email me at

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