Wednesday, March 2, 2016

KTL Newsletter 8 - Helping Students Find The Main Idea

Perhaps one of the most foundational, yet challenging, aspects of the Keys to Literacy programs is helping students find the main idea of a piece of writing. 

When exposed to a piece of writing (whether it be expository, narrative, or persuasive) students frequently provide lists of the most important details; however, lack the skills to narrow those details down to one main idea. In an effort to improve this skill, it is helpful to first guide students in the process using the I-We-You model

After asking students to read an expository passage aloud during class, use self-cueing prompts to help students ask themselves questions in order to identify the big idea of the text. Two questions I have found helpful to aid students in their thinking is, "Who or what is the focus of the source?" and "What is most important about it?" This helps students focus on the big ideas of the reading rather than becoming bogged down in details. 

Once students have answered these questions they are able to narrow down the central focus of the reading. As part of the "I" part of the model, teachers can have a pre-written main idea prepared to share with students as a model. An activity I have found helpful is writing each word of the pre-determined main idea on separate index cards. Each student is given an index card and as a class they must assemble themselves into the main idea sentence. Once assembled they must read the sentence aloud and compare how it matches their main idea. This also incorporates the "We" part of the I-We-You model. 

As an extension, teachers can use different colored index cards to emphasize key words versus non-essential words. This activity is especially useful for students who have a difficult time cutting out details. Students are then set up to practice the "You" portion of the I-We-You model by reading an excerpt and finding the main idea independently or for homework. 

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