Teaching the main idea in 3rd grade can be challenging, but it’s an important skill for students to master. After all, identifying the main idea of a text is crucial for understanding what you read. In this blog post, I share some tips and tricks for teaching the main idea in non-fiction so that your students can confidently identify the main idea of any text they encounter.
Table of Contents
Introducing Main Idea
When introducing the main idea of a text, I tell students to think about what the text is mostly about. But this idea can be abstract for kids, so I use this activity to give them a better idea of what that means.
I gather objects to create “main idea” bags when introducing the main idea. I put objects in a brown paper bag and pull them out one at a time. When I am finished, I ask students to tell what the objects have in common. Here are some examples:
- stapler, pencil, paperclip, eraser, scissors: OFFICE SUPPLIES
- plate, utensils, napkin: THINGS YOU USE WHEN EATING
- toothbrush, toothpaste, dental floss: THINGS YOU USE TO KEEP YOUR TEETH CLEAN
This is what the bag is mostly about. Just like the main idea of a text. It’s what all the key details have in common.
Teaching Main Idea in 3rd Grade Using Graphic Organizers
For many young readers, it’s easier to find key details that lead to the text’s main idea – rather than deciding on that first. You might ask students to find details about Snow Leopards from this text. Using highlighters or colored pencils to underline the key details as they read.
Afterward, they will add these to a graphic organizer. Using graphic organizers for this purpose helps students organize this information. There are a couple of graphic organizers that work well for the main idea and key details:
- Tree Maps
They can’t list all the details, so they should find the ones they would tell a friend if they were describing the animal.
Then they can look at the details and decide what they have in common. In this case, it’s that Snow Leopards are perfectly suited to their environment because of their physical adaptations. It’s stated in the text, but sometimes that isn’t obvious to young readers.
If you want to use a T-Chart graphic organizer, it could look like this using a text about Eagles:
As students are reading, they can underline or highlight details about eagles. They will list them on the right side of the T-Chart. Looking at the details to determine what they have in common – students can write the main idea on the left side of the T-Chart.
Summarize the Text
Writing a summary of something you read is an important skill for 3rd graders – but a fairly new one. Using these organizers when writing a summary helps students know what to include.
Because summaries are just one paragraph, it’s important to be concise and clear. Keep the focus on the most important information from the text. One way to help them learn how to write a good summary is to give them a frame like this one:
Like the graphic organizers used to find and list the details – this frame helps students logically organize their information. Using frames helps them build this skill as they summarize different texts. Eventually, they won’t need it!
As teachers, we know that one of the best ways to help our students learn is by giving them opportunities to practice what they’ve learned. These tips will allow your students to see how details in a text support the main idea and to summarize texts after reading them. Try these strategies in your classroom and see how your students improve their understanding of the main idea in 3rd grade!
Don’t forget to Grab this FREE Citing Text Evidence resource!
The resource I used in this post is this 3rd Grade Main Idea Reading Comprehension Packet.
The most valuable resource that all teachers have is each other. Without collaboration our growth is limited to our own perspectives.Robert John Meehan
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