Nonfiction Main Idea
By Mary Montero
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Are you looking for a new an exciting way to have your students work on identifying main idea in nonfiction texts? This is a super low-prep activity that I’ve had great success with for years!
Have extra Time for Kids or Scholastic News pages cluttering your room? I have the perfect activity for you! (and if you have neither, you can easily go to Scholastic News or a similar site and print off kid friendly articles, like I did, for this project!)
My kids usually do fairly well determining the main idea of a fiction passage or story. Determining the main idea of non-fiction articles and books becomes a little bit more tricky for some of my students. Although I do eventually teach the 5 “W”s when we move into summarizing, I initially introduce nonfiction main idea with this concept.
It’s not as overwhelming as all 5 of the “W”s and the kids are usually pretty good at remembering the little saying. I WILL also emphasize that the “why” can also be “how” in some cases. We then talk about how a lot of the time, the title of a nonfiction piece of writing will often give you a broad idea of the main idea.
Here’s a look at our main idea anchor chart. The sticky notes make it an interactive anchor chart so that it can be used over and over again for different pieces of text.
To practice nonfiction main idea, I cut out a bunch of old Time For Kids and Scholastic News articles and also printed some off the internet. I cut all of the titles off, fold a piece of construction paper in half, and then glue the article itself on the front flap and the title on the inside flap. I paperclip the flaps together, and number each article. The kids are then charged with re-writing the title of each article to represent the main idea of the article. (I also explain that sometimes the real articles have “catchy” titles, so I let the kids write two titles if they want to–a main idea statement title, and a catchy title that encompasses the main idea). When the kids are done, they can take a look at the title on the inside and then move on to the next one.
My students have always enjoyed this, and they often see it as a challenge to come up with a title as appropriate as possible (and then have fun coming up with a catchy one, too). I have used it for years, and by the end of the stack, the students are excellent at writing main idea statements.
Using Multiple Articles on the Same Topic
Another spin I have put on this over the years is to gather several articles on the same topic that focus on different main ideas within the topic. I’ve found that National Geographic for Kids Magazines have AMAZING articles for this (affiliate link for the subscription, which is FULL of amazing informational text examples). Here’s an example of what this looks like in my room…
All five of the short articles I used are about servals and how their bodies are specially adapted to be amazing cats. Each article is about a specific adaptation they have. The students write the “fun” title main idea as well as the more formal main idea. Then they look at what they all have in common and write a title for the main article. In this case, the actual title was “Weirdest. Cat. Ever.” This is just one more extension of this activity!
Do you love this idea but don’t have time to find articles and cut them out? I have them already made for you! Click HERE for this main idea activity.
More Main Idea Resources
Are you looking for even more main idea ideas? Click the images below to read even more ideas for teaching main idea!
I’m so glad you are here. I’m a current gifted and talented teacher in a small town in Colorado, and I’ve been in education since 2009. My passion (other than my family and cookies) is for making teachers’ lives easier and classrooms more engaging.