So What's the Big Deal? Getting to the Main Idea & Key Details - (Standard 2)

Today's post is Part 2 in a 10 part series of closely reading and understanding the Reading Informational Standards of the Common Core for grades 3-6.  I "explained" Standard 1 in this post.  I have also released a large bundle of....
graphic organizers to help students show (and teachers teach) the thinking behind comprehending informational content.  The reading response sheets are open-ended, and leave lots of room for students to practice their written comprehension.  The bundle can be found by clicking on the image below.  (It's actually on sale right now, too.)

But, this post is dedicated to the student demands of Informational Text Standard 2.  A lot of people might hyper-summarize standard 2 as Main Idea or Main Ideas, which is a fair hyper-summary. However, I like to say it's all about the Big Idea or Big Ideas.  

Standard 2 still falls under the structural umbrella of Key Ideas and Details, so this standard is still asking students to really know "WHAT it is the article is about" or "WHAT the article is saying."  You'll recall the same structure of this standard in Reading Literature is all about the message, lesson and theme of the as far as we can find the message, lesson and theme in informational text, we will, and instead of calling it the "message, lesson and/or theme"...we'll call it the main idea(s), central idea(s) and/or big idea(s) in the text. 

For third graders, this means they are expected to determine the main idea and key details AND explain how those details support the main idea.   Several things about these expectations stand out to me vs. what kids used to be expected to know and show about informational text.  One, they actually have to be able to articulate A main idea, a gist, in their own words.  To me, key details have never been a problem for kids, in fact, that's usually all kids would find and for the most part, that's all teachers would expect.  Think of key details of the past as FACTS about the topic in the article.  Most students could and can read an article about say, Earth Day, for example, and tell you a lot of details or facts included in the article. In fact, I think kids thought/think that the more they include, AND the more detailed the facts are, AND the neater and shinier the piece of paper looks, that that's good enough, that they've met the expectations of the assignment...and if a student or a teacher really wanted to (think they were) going above and beyond, they would even do a Report or a Presentation or Display Board about that topic...but only falling short if only including facts, or a list of details, and pictures without a main idea or big idea statement.

For fourth graders, this also means determining the main idea of the text and explaining how it is supported by the key details.  In addition, fourth graders must summarize the text in their own words.  Organizational structure of a text article (Standard 5) is going to be key in helping students determine main idea and supporting details. I have found that many students confuse main idea and supporting details, calling supporting details main ideas and main ideas supporting when teaching this standard to students, I find it helpful to ask students to determine the key supporting details first, and then when the two, three, or four of the them are identified in a a paragraph (start small), to ask students, "What do all these details have in common?" and answer to that question will be the main idea of the paragraph.   It is important that third graders are expected to EXPLAIN how the key details support the main idea, because this skill is the foundation of the summary they are now expected to write in 4th grade. 

Fifth graders are expected to do everything that fourth graders are expected to do and are asked to determine if a text may have two or more main ideas on the topic, not just one. But they will also need to be able to EXPLAIN how the main ideas are supported by the key details and be able to write a summary of the text. 

In sixth grade, the words "main idea" turn to "central idea" and 6th graders are expected to determine the central idea of the text and how that idea is communicated through the details. A sixth grade summary of the text will be different from the student's opinion or attitudes about the topic, it will be objective.  

I believe that in order to set kids up for success with this standard that we must teach them to identify and determine four things when reading informational text: 

1. The Topic
2. The Main Idea
3. The Key Details
4. The Big Deal

For many, many articles, especially ones in newspapers, magazines, online, at timeforkids and scholasticnews, the topic and main idea are right in front of us (see image below). I teach students that the title will tell you the topic, and the subtitle will tell you the main idea...most of the time. The key details are in the text but are organized in a way to support the main idea, and the big deal is the big idea, the SO WHAT. I realize that none of the 3rd-5th wording for standard 2 expects kids to answer the question SO WHAT? or SO, WHAT'S THE BIG DEAL ABOUT THIS ARTICLE? But, other standards do (Standard 8), so it's a question I habitually ask students now.  Again, I always like to bring the awareness of the WHY students should be learning this back to them, back to real-world relevance...not necessarily asking, what does this article have to do with me? But, what can I do to make a difference in this topic in the real world?  

(Do you like this sheet? Do you want it? If so, click HERE.)

My dear friends, the Polar Bears.  (I apologize to everyone that has already heard this, it's my token anecdote for determining BiG IdeA, and I tell this "story" when presenting.)  

Take this article about the polar bears. (Web version or Print version.)  If you were to give this article to 3rd - 6th graders in the past and maybe some or most now, kids would read it and be able to tell you many key details (facts) about polar bears, like...

"Polar bears have thick fur."
"Polar bears have huge paws."
"Polar bears live in the Artic Sea."
"Some polar bears live in zoo."
"Polar bears hunt and eat seals."
"Polar bears need sea ice to sneak up on seals."
"Polar bears do not eat when on land."
"Polar bears cubs get food from their mother."

But would students be able to tell you the main idea about ice, the impact of ice on a polar bear's survival and what the threat of less ice may cause for polar bears in the future?   And it isn't until the last paragraph that readers learn what they can do to protect the environment and save polar bears.  

This is a great anchor article for this standard has a topic, main idea, key details and a big deal...and they are not too difficult to identify.  In addition, this article uses three, and at certain spots, four, of the informational text structures from Standard 5. But more on that in the Standard 5 post.  

In my packet, I have included several organizers for students to show how they know main idea and key details.  Here are a few:

And a few more:

In addition, I've included some (of what I think kids will think is fun, at least when I showed them to my own daughter, she said, "Mom, that is so cool, none of my teachers every asked me to show what I knew about famous people [biographies] like that!") sheets using tools from social media.  Here's my rationale:  if you are going to complete a Facebook (Fakebook) page about someone famous, you first have to know key details about their life...and not just the facts. You also need to know what they believed and valued.  In order to complete the "What's in George Washington's Inbox?" sheet, students need to know the key people in George's life. Who would you expect him to be receiving emails from? And what would the subject line be?   If you know a person well, you know what they believe in and what they stand up for, or won't stand up for, like Rosa Parks. If cell phones existed in the days of Rosa Parks, what would her text home be, that famous day she refused to move to the back of the bus?  If iPods existed in the days of George Washington, what songs would be on his iPod? In order to complete these Main Idea and Key Details with Social Media Sheets, you have to really know and "get" this person, you have to look and find common patterns and trends in their behaviors and beliefs, before you can complete these social media sheets.

 Here is a snapshot of how I used social media tools to practice main idea and key details in Standard 2:

These sheets, along with all the others are available HERE

Next post, Standard 3! 
Are you enjoying this so far?


Also, wanted to let everyone know that my Planet Earth Fluency Fact Cards is up in my store. Plan ahead for Earth Day, April 22.  These cards are perfect companion to your Geography, Landforms, Ecosystems, and Environmental Literacy studies.  On a related but side note, these cards are also good for any of your struggling readers as short text passages.  They deliver the content in bite-size pieces.  

Planet Earth Fluency Fact Cards available HERE.



Sherry said...

If these Fluency Facts are as AMAZING as the Olympic set that I purchased from you, you've got another sale!! The students really enjoyed the opportunity to read to many others...

Kristi said...

Love it! These posts are super helpful. Thanks a bunch and looking forward to the next post!

Third Grade Doodles said...

Yes...I am really enjoying these posts so far!! I have spent a lot of time pondering Standard 2 this year with my third graders. This post has really helped me to clarify my own thinking. "The Four Things" mentioned above will be especially helpful as I continue to address this standard with my students this year. I purchased the packet and it is fabulous! I love your idea of printing out all of the pages (six on a page) to use for planning purposes...great organizational strategy!! You're FaBuLoUs!!!

Sara at school said...

Oh, you're making this 2nd grade teacher think!

Kimberly said...

Thank you for sharing your expertise! You are a difference maker!

April said...

Jen... I'm such a dedicated follower and will finally be able to implement the things you have shared. When we'll 3-10 be coming?

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