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 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 will deepen students’ understanding of main idea and supporting details.
What’s more, because this reading skill naturally integrates with all content areas, it doesn’t matter what subject you teach or what curriculum you use.
You’ll still find these activities for main idea and supporting details helpful.
It’s important to note that building the skill of finding the main idea takes time; it’s an ongoing learning process.
So consistently utilize these activities with materials of appropriate reading levels, and students’ skills will improve.
Main Idea Activities
The following activities for finding the main idea help students develop the thought process and critical thinking skills needed to eventually be able to find the main idea when reading independently.
1. Do 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. Use 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.
Related Content: 17 Cool Main Idea Graphic Organizers (FREE Download)
3. Create a 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 cut-out templates.
Download the main idea mobile cloud and raindrop templates.
4. “Get the Gist” In 15 Words or Less.
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.
5. Make 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.
6. Name That Trait.
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.
7. Brainstorm Article Headlines.
Next on the list of activities about main idea 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.
8. Play Main Idea 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. Answer Main Idea Writing Prompts.
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.
10. Use a Main Idea Rating Scale.
In this main idea activity, students create a simple 1-5 rating scale (in their notebooks or on chart paper) to gauge the importance of details in a chosen text.
After reading a text, students categorize details from the text from least important (1-2) to most important (4-5).
They will place each detail on the scale accordingly.
The resulting visual representation guides them to compose a comprehensive summary using the highest-rated details, deepening their understanding of the main idea.
11. Make Main Idea Story Stones.
Paint or draw main ideas and details on stones.
Students arrange the stones to create a visual representation of the main idea and supporting details.
12. Read and Identify.
Provide short paragraphs or stories and ask students to identify the main idea.
Encourage them to underline or highlight the sentence that best summarizes the overall topic.
13. Create a Main Idea Comic Strip.
Allow students to create fun comic strips that illustrate the main idea and key details of a story or a personal experience.
14. Caption Picture Books.
Use picture books to introduce main idea concepts visually. Discuss the main idea of the story while looking at the illustrations.
Students will discuss what captions or text would appear on each page.
15. Identify the Main Idea In Media.
Show students a short video clip, commercial, educational video, or news segment.
After watching, have them identify the main idea of the media presentation and discuss how it was effectively communicated to viewers.
Use main idea sentence starters to jumpstart discussion.
16. Do Jigsaw Reading.
Divide students into groups, give each group a different text, and have them identify the main idea.
Then, mix up the groups so that each group has representatives from each original group, and they share their main ideas.
17. Play Main Idea Charades.
Act out different main ideas and have students guess what the main idea is based on the actions.
18. Take Interactive Quizzes.
Create online quizzes or interactive games where students have to select the correct main idea from a list of options or arrange statements in order of main idea to supporting details.
19. Participate In a Main Idea Walk.
Post a series of statements or paragraphs around the classroom.
Students walk around, read each one, and jot down the main idea for each piece of text.
20. Read and React.
Assign different reading materials to small groups.
After reading, each group creates a brief skit, drawing, or comic strip that illustrates the main idea of their assigned text.
21. Organize a Main Idea Gallery.
Display a variety of images, diagrams, and short texts on chart paper placed on the wall.
Students rotate through each station, reading or analyzing the content and identifying the main idea for each item.
22. Name That Recipe.
Give students a list of ingredients, and they have to infer the dish.
Afterward, write the name of the dish (main idea) and ingredients (details) on a main idea graphic organizer so that they can visualize the structure.
23. Write a Mini Biography.
Have students choose a historical figure and discuss his or her life’s main idea or contribution.
Create a mini-biography that focuses on the key points.
24. Summarize a Field Trip.
Visit a museum, zoo, historical site, science center, museum, or special exhibit.
Upon returning to school, have students identify the main idea and supporting details of specific displays or exhibits.
25. Analyze an Advertisement.
Have students watch a TV commercial or online advertisement.
As a class, discuss the main idea, message, and persuasive techniques used to communicate the ideas.
These activities offer a range of interactive and creative ways for students to practice identifying main ideas and supporting details within different types of content.
Now you know how to teach the main idea in a way that is engaging for students. Boosting reading comprehension can be fun, memorable, and enjoyable.