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Interactive Activities on Finding the Main Idea

By Keren Perles

Teaching students how to identify the main idea of a passage can bore them, and it can be hard to find engaging ways to do it. These "finding the main idea" interactive activities will help you encourage your students to practice the skill through fun main idea activities.

Graphic Organizer or Main Idea Box

To help students find the main idea, interactive activities can be helpful in both engaging students and helping them to practice this skill. The most basic of these activities for teaching main idea is to use a graphic organizer. A main idea graphic organizer can vary from a web of circles, in which the center circle contains the main idea and the outer circles contain the supporting details to a mathematical equation with boxes, in which students can see that the sum of the entire supporting details combined together equal the main idea of the passage.

This main idea activity is particularly helpful for visual learners who can "see" the main idea more clearly using a graphic organizer. You can show them how to write in the supporting details from a passage first and then to try to find the main idea that encompasses them all.

For kinesthetic learners, it may be helpful to make a main idea box. This box is just a small cardboard box (such as a recycled tissue box) that has a place on top for a note-card to fit. Students can write the supporting details on individual note-cards and put them into the main idea box, one by one. They can then remove the note-cards and sort through them to find the main idea. They should write the main idea on an additional note-card and stick it to the top of the box. In this way, they can see and experience the fact that the main idea "contains" all of the supporting details in the box.

My Favorite Main Idea

Connecting the concept of a "main idea" to something that students enjoy can help them to care about mastering it. To do this, have students choose a topic that they enjoy, such as "swimming" or "dogs." Instruct them to write down four or five details about the subject. Students can then work to figure out a main idea that would encompass all of the details they listed. Encourage students to share their main ideas and details with the class, and to discuss why they chose that topic.

Partner Swap

Before this interactive activity for teaching main idea, prepare a list of "main ideas" that could conceivably be used as the start of a paragraph or essay. Hand out one of these main ideas to each student, and encourage them to write a list of fabricated details to support the main idea that they received. Students should then pair up and swap their details with a partner, without revealing the original main idea. Challenge them to try to come up with main ideas as similar to the original ones as possible. Afterward, discuss the differences between the first and the second versions of the main idea.

These "finding the main idea" interactive activities will help keep your students engaged and will enable them to practice their skills in identifying the main idea of a passage. For advanced students, try teaching them a mini lesson about topic sentences as an extension of this lesson.