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Helping Students Identify Main Ideas and Supporting Details.

By Trent Lorcher

Begin your reading skill instruction with helping students identify main ideas and supporting details.

I tell students the football coach at my school doesn't know what he's doing. Stunned by my audacity, they protest: "But he was named coach of the year three times and has won the state title twice!"

"Let me explain," I insist, "All summer his players waste time lifting weights. I've watched a lot of football in my life and I've never seen a player bench press and get rewarded points. If I were the coach I would just have my players run the ball into the end zone for hours because that's how you score in football."

Students protest more as they explain football players need to be strong in order to advance the ball into the end zone.

Amazingly, half the class thinks I'm serious. I then explain to them how utilizing critical thinking and reading skills in the real world is akin to weightlifting in football. Your boss will never call you into the office and ask you questions about reading; however, the skills and brain strength you accumulate while reading will give you the necessary skills to advance in life.

Identifying Main Ideas and Supporting Details

  1. Helping students identify main ideas and supporting details enhances achievement and improves reader confidence.
  2. Identifying main ideas and supporting details begins before reading. By activating prior knowledge students anticipate the main idea of a selection.
  3. Identifying main ideas and supporting details during and after reading solidify comprehension.

Here are some suggestions:

  • If you want students to share prior knowledge, ask questions.
  • Guide students to anticipate main ideas. A good guide allows the student to believe he came up with the answer himself.
  • Instruct students to look how the author or publisher organizes the material. Headings, sub-headings and bold print highlight main ideas and supporting details.
  • After reading a paragraph or a section, ask questions that check for understanding. For example, "What was this paragraph about?" "How does that fit into what you already know about the topic?"
  • Stress the importance of looking at headings, captions, illustrations, and charts to help determine the main idea.