How to Teach Main Idea


+++Understanding the what a reading passage or book is mostly about is at the core of reading comprehension.  As the complexity of the text increases, the task of determining importance becomes more challenging. Students at all grade levels need support in this process. They need strategies and practice to hone this skill as texts get longer. Reading research quaterly states that even expert readers follow a process and apply strategies while constructing the main idea.

+++Lower level books often have a main topic instead of a main idea. For instance, a book topic might be frogs while the main idea is frogs are amphibians (topic + idea). Children reading at lower levels might need to focus on finding the topic before advancing to finding the main idea.

The Reading Strategies Book Study Header

In The Reading Strategies Book, Jennifer Serravallo suggest several strategies for teaching students to locate a topic & main idea:


  • Notice What Repeats: Notice what repeats throughout the text. Ask yourself, “Does that word tell me what the book is mostly about?”
  • What? and So What?: The main idea is more than just what the text is about. What the text is about is the topic. To find the main idea, we find the topic and notice how the author writes about it.  Then we ask: “So what?” or “So what makes this passage unique?”
  • Shrink-a-text with a partner: Decide together what the main idea of a passage is, and try to shrink what you’ve read into just one sentence!

+++Finding the main idea is a key to improving reading comprehension, yet it is not a concept that is taught once an mastered. It requires ongoing practice to successfully apply this skill to different texts. Because of this, the resource I created gradually builds in difficulty and provides a necessary scaffolding for students as they learn to master this skill throughout the year! The levels and paragraph lengths gradually build from L 630 – 980.

My “Main Idea of the Week” pack includes anchor posters, main idea graphic organizers that can be applied to any text, 37 practice passages that increase in difficulty, and answer keys.

+++This resource gives students multiple opportunities to practice recognizing text organization. When students can see the organization of a written paragraph, they can more easily identify the main idea.

*The first 11 passages ask students to find and restate the topic, main idea, and a detail. The other 26 increase in difficulty, and ask them to find and restate the main idea, a detail, and a related example of that detail.

+++I modeled this after the “step up to writing” process and more in depth reading and writing. Finding the organization while reading will also help students apply it to their writing.

I created “Main Idea of the Week” based on the popularity of these smaller main idea resources. (Each resource consists of unique practice passages.) The smaller resources can be found here:

+++Serravallo’s, Reading Strategies Book is a great overview of easy to apply classroom reading lessons. If you’d like your own copy just click on the picture below:

(This is an affiliate link, but I only suggest products I use myself. I earn a small percentage each time someone uses one of my links, which helps to support the blog. )
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