Strategies for Teaching Main Idea and Supporting Details

Teaching main idea and supporting details to students isn’t all that easy. Many students struggle with the concept and the process. They get confused and caught up in all of the little details when reading through the text. Some even confuse summarizing a passage with finding the main idea. So, how can you as a teacher make sure that this doesn’t happen to your students?  After many years of trial and error, I have the solution that has worked in my classroom time after time. I’m excited to share with you my strategies for teaching main idea and supporting details.

Strategies for Teaching Main Idea and Supporting Details

How to teach Main Idea and Supporting Details

main idea and supporting details reading passages with a focused skill

When teaching main idea and supporting details, scaffolding instruction is KEY! It is important to start small and basic. Provide your students with some easy-to-read, straight to the point passages that they can practice with. These passages should make it easy for them to pinpoint exactly what the main idea is and find some of the supporting details.

Practicing this strategy will get your students in the habit of honing in on what the main idea really is and then finding those little details that support it. As time goes on, they will be able to explain how the details of the passage support the main idea.

How it all started . . .

Over the years, I realized that this important concept all too often gets combined with everything else as part of a long reading passage. Students often struggle to find the main idea of a longer passage. One year, my students struggled with this concept more than usual. I decided to create some short passages that would make it easier for my students to understand and practice this concept.

Do you know what happened? It worked! My students were able to focus on the one, important skill, and really got it. There were a-ha light bulb moments all over the room! We started adding these short main idea passages into our reading block and over time they became so successful!

short passages help students learn to identify the main idea and supporting details

We started out with passages where the main idea was right in the first paragraph of the passage. The supporting details were strategically placed throughout the passage allowing students to spot them quickly and easily. As students mastered skills, we moved on to more difficult texts where the details were harder to find. These texts pushed students to dig a little deeper to find the information they were looking for.

Over the course of that year, I developed a series of passages that gradually increased in difficulty. Ones that truly guided students to mastery of this important skill.

Once I realized I had come across something that really helped my students, I decided to put these passages together into sets so they can help your students, too. I combined seasonal and similar skill level passages together to provide you with a Main Idea and Supporting Details resource that you can use all year long.

Each resource gradually builds on the previous one. This creates an amazing scaffolded approach where the material gradually gets more difficult as students’ skills grow and develop. You can use this resource throughout the entire school year to teach and reinforce main idea.

reading passages for learning how to identify the main idea and supporting details

Free Main Idea and Supporting Details Passages

I would love for you to try out the Main Idea and Supporting Details passages in your classroom. There’s no better way to see if a resource is a good fit than to give it a try. Grab My FREE Main Idea and Supporting Details Sample and give it a go! 

Main Idea and Supporting Details Free Sample

Differentiation Made Easy!

Another great thing about these resources is that they are easily adaptable to meet your students where they are. For example, if you teach third grade, your students will likely need more instruction on this skill than their fifth grade peers. This is easy to do with so many focused passages available. Add to that your ability to work together as a class and model your thinking process and actions through guided practice.

print and digital main idea and supporting detail passages

Maybe you have a class with reading skill levels that vary greatly. No problem! Use these main idea and supporting detail passages as part of small group instruction. The tiered resources make this a perfect resource when working with groups by ability. Just pull the beginning passages for your lower groups and grab a more difficult one for your high group. Each group can work on a passage that meets them right where they are. Having a variety of passages for a variety of skill levels right at your fingertips makes differentiating quick and easy.

Tips and Tricks

Here’s a couple of my favorite tips and tricks when teaching main idea and supporting details.

  • Remind your students to always look for “who” and “what” the passage is about – this will be the main idea.
  • When a student gives a main idea follow up with these words “Prove it.” This will lead them to the supporting details.
  • Use highlighters, crayons, or colored pencils to color code the passage. Use one color for the main idea and another color for the supporting details.
  • Weave main idea and supporting details into lessons for a variety of subject areas, including math. Asking students to identify the main idea of a math lesson can help you see what they are understanding.

Printable and Digital Options

While this resource started out as a traditional printable worksheet, I have now added in digital options, too! With the increased use of technology in the classroom, you can now choose whether to provide students with a printed paper or digitally assign them the online digital activity. Both activities work on the same important skills.

printable and digital main idea and supporting detail reading passages

Engaging With the Seasons While Teaching Main Idea

Of course, main idea and supporting details are something that you want to cover all year long. The skill is not something that you introduce and then forget about. That’s why I created a variety of seasonally-themed reading passages for this skill. Student engagement goes up when classroom activities are connected to real life.

Check out this free sample from the Winter Main Idea pack to see how the seasonal themes are connected to these reading activities.

Main Idea and Supporting Details Winter Free Sample

The Teaching Main Idea Bundle includes seasonal resources for Winter, Spring, Fall, and Christmas! Plus a variety of non-seasonal passages, too! This ensures that your students will stay actively engaged all year long while mastering the common core standards and having fun doing it!

Main Idea with Non-Fiction Text Bundle

I hope you and your students will enjoy these main idea and supporting details resources throughout the year. I can’t wait to hear which resource is your favorite and learn different ways that you utilized it in your classroom.

You can also purchases each of these main idea resources separately in my store.

Pin it and Save these Main Idea and Supporting Detail Ideas

Teaching students to identify the main idea and supporting details is an on-going process. Pin this to your favorite classroom Pinterest board so you can quickly come back when you need more teaching ideas and resources for this important skill.

How to Teach Main Idea and Details

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HI! I'M KIM!

I AM PASSIONATE ABOUT HELPING TEACHERS SAVE TIME BY CREATING MEANINGFUL AND ENGAGING RESOURCES THAT MAKE TEACHING AND LEARNING EASIER.

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