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Main Ideas and Supporting Details Lesson Plan

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Lesson Plan #: AELP-RDG0200

School Library Media Activities Monthly, (6:7, March 1990)

Grade Levels: 4, 5


  • Language Arts/Reading

Library Media Skill Objectives:
The student will locate information in a nonfiction book or article, identifying the main ideas and supporting details. Curriculum (subject area) Objectives:
This activity may be used in connection with a reading/language arts lesson or set of lessons in expository reading and writing as well as identifying main ideas and supporting details.

Resources :
Materials in the library media center collection.

Instructional Roles:
The classroom teacher may introduce the activity and the library media specialist may help students with follow up and location of selected materials.

Activity and Procedures for Completion:
The classroom teacher may introduce the idea that there are often subjects that we need to know something about without reading an entire book. In such cases, we must discern the structure of the book and the main ideas which combine to form the structure. The main ideas are supported with details which define and expand the idea, compare it with other ideas, bring the idea to a logical conclusion, etc. The teacher may help the students by modeling a simple strategy for skimming material for the main idea.  A copy of the strategy may be distributed to the students to follow as the classroom teacher explains it. Examples of each step may be helpful.

Worksheet Guidelines
Skimming to Find the Main Ideas
1. Read the title of the selection carefully .
The title may provide clues which will help you identify the main ideas which are covered. There may be clues words which suggest how the material is arranged. For example, words like cause versus suggest a kind of argument that the author may be making. Kinds or types often suggest definitions or lists.

2. Check to see if there are headings and subheadings in the text.
If there are headings and subheadings, the author may have already told you the main points. These headings and subheadings suggest the outline or structure of the article.

3. Check to see if there are italicized words or phrases in the text .
Usually an author puts words which are important or need emphasis in italics.

4. Find any lists of points that are set off with numbers or paragraphs that begin with first, second, and so forth.
These points may be the most important part of the selection.

5.  Sometimes the same idea is repeated .
If an idea is repeated in a different form, the author may be trying to reinforce the main or important idea.

6. Read the first and last paragraph of the selection .
Because main ideas are generalizations, the author may begin and end with a statement which generalizes or summarizes the ideas.

7. Read the first or last sentence of each paragraph if the main ideas are still unclear .
Often the author states the main idea in what is called a topic sentence at the beginning of the paragraph, although the sentence is sometimes found at the end or in the middle of the paragraph. Sometimes there are paragraphs with no topic sentence. In those cases, you must read the entire paragraph.

After the classroom teacher has explained how to skim for main ideas, the process may be demonstrated with a selection which all students may follow as it is skimmed. Students may ask questions about the process before trying it themselves.  The classroom teacher may ask the students to work with a partner to skim two selections for main ideas. One partner may read the process steps as the other partner practices with the first selection.  The first selection may then be reviewed by the entire class. The partners may reverse roles for the second selection. After this guided practice session, the classroom teacher may send the students to the library media center to locate nonfiction materials which they will skim for main ideas. The library media specialist will help students choose topics.

The student may use the card catalog, locate the materials on the shelves, and follow the procedure for skimming the material for main ideas. The main ideas may be recorded. Each student may schedule an appointment with the classroom teacher to discuss the ideas found in the selection(s).

The student will identify the main ideas in a nonfiction selection.

The student may:


  • List the main ideas for the selection and identify the details that support each main idea.

These integrated lesson plans and suggestions for teaching library and information skills in connection with various classroom subject areas are provided by LMS Associates and were originally published in School Library Media Activities Monthly. Lessons may be used for the non-commercial purpose of education. All materials are held in copyright by LMS Associates for the magazine, School Library Media Activities Monthly. For more information, contact, LMS Associates; 17 E. Henrietta Street; Baltimore, MD 21230 410-685-8621.