Here you will find a collection of main idea activities that boost reading comprehension.
Finding the main idea is a useful skill that students will use for life.
When we quickly tell someone about a book we read, a show we watched, or a podcast that we listened to, we’re essentially speaking about the main idea.
For students, finding the main idea with supporting details primarily focuses on finding the main point of an article, passage, essay, paragraph, chapter, section of a book, or even a picture.
The following main idea activities are useful no matter what curriculum you teach because this reading skill naturally integrates with all content areas.
It’s important to note that building the skill of finding the main idea takes time; it’s an ongoing learning process.
As students are exposed to and practice with a variety of genres within an appropriate range of reading levels, their skills will sharpen.
To support learners in this progression, the following hands-on main idea activities are organized from beginner level to advanced.
Each individual activity sets a stronger foundation for the next.
This progression of activities for finding the main idea helps students develop the thought process and critical thinking skills needed to eventually be able to find the main idea when reading independently.
1. Main Idea Word Sorts
Word sorts are great for introducing or reviewing the main idea.
You can do this activity as a whole class or in groups.
Here’s what you do…
Brainstorm a few general topics. Examples include planets, pets, fruits, days of the week, sports, renewable resources, clothes, book genres, etc. Choose about 4-6 main idea topics.
Choose topics with which students have some connection. If they have prior knowledge of the topics, they’ll grasp the main idea much faster.
As an example, I’m going to choose the following main idea topics…
NOTE: These word sort examples are relatively easy so that you get the gist of the activity.
Now, with those main idea topics in mind, create about 6 “detail” cards for each main idea. Below, see the “detail” cards created for each main idea topic.
Next, make a copy of the sheet above for each student or pair. Students cut, mix, and then sort the words.
As students sort, they brainstorm what could be the main idea of each group. What’s important here is the conversation/discussion piece.
As students sort, encourage whole class or group dialog about WHY they are sorting/categorizing a particular way.
Download the main idea word sort activity.
2. Main Idea Concentric Circles
Of the main idea activities, this one works exceptionally well for students who need extra support.
Here’s how it works…
Write a group of words or collect a group of pictures to place around a concentric circle.
Students infer the main idea of the items and write the central idea in the center of the circle.
Download a main idea concentric circle graphic organizer.
3. “Get the Gist” Main Idea Activity
Get the Gist is a main idea activity that requires readers to focus on the main ideas of a text without omitting any important ideas.
Here’s how it works…
- Give students (or have them choose) a grade-level appropriate text selection.
- After reading, they think about WHO or WHAT the passage or text is mostly speaking of.
- Then they think about the key pieces of information about the WHO or WHAT.
- Finally, students put all the pieces together to form a “main idea” statement that tells the “gist” of the selection. The “gist” statement has to be 15 words or less.
The 15 words or less part is challenging for beginners.
But with modeling and practice, learners get better and better with this strategy.
Download Get the Gist main idea activity.
4. Name That Trait
Main idea activities are twice as nice when they naturally teach other important reading skills like inferring.
Sometimes the main idea isn’t clearly stated, so readers have to infer based on clues.
Here’s how “Name That Trait” works…
- Give each student a main idea graphic organizer.
- Provide three clues that are examples of a particular character trait. Make all the clues related to one main event and character (see example below).
- Students then infer the main character’s trait.
5. Making Headlines
Next on the list of main idea activities is one that incorporates magazines and newspapers.
Here’s how to do it…
- Gather copies of kids’ magazines and newspapers. (Think Time for Kids and Highlights. Check your library for more options.)
- Eliminate the headings (blacken them with a marker or cover them with tape).
- In small groups, pairs, or individually, students read each article and brainstorm their own titles for each. The title must be logical and based on details from the text.
6. Main Idea Graphic Organizers
This list of main idea activities wouldn’t be complete without graphic organizers.
If learners have been successful with the previous activities, they should be comfortable tackling graphic organizers independently.
How to use...
- As independent reading or as an informal assessment, students find the main idea and supporting details of a chapter, section, passage, etc.
- They record the information on their main idea graphic organizer.
7. Main Idea Mobile
Here’s one example of taking a simple graphic organizer and making it interactive.
Provide each student with a main idea. Students then write one detail on each raindrop.
All that’s needed for this activity is a hanger, string, and the cut-out templates.
Download the main idea mobile cloud and raindrop templates.
8. Memory Game
This game is made for partners/pairs.
Students take turns pulling a card from each of the two piles.
They read each card to determine if the cards match each other.
If the cards don’t match, the student puts the cards back in the appropriate piles. If the cards do match, the student keeps that pair of cards.
The game continues as such until no cards remain.
Download a copy of the main idea memory game.
9. Main Idea Writing Prompts
Include in your collection of main idea activities a few writing activities.
For this activity, students respond to a main idea writing prompt.
This main idea activity is great for assessing how well students really grasp the concept of main idea because it prompts them to think critically about what pieces of information to include and omit in their written response.
See 40+ main idea writing prompt ideas.
Final Thoughts On Main Idea Activities
Now you know how to teach main idea in a way that is engaging for students. Boosting reading comprehension can be fun!
If you liked reading about these fun ways to teach main idea, you may be interested in … main sentence starters.