How do you feel when you hear the words main idea or main topic? Do you cringe or do you get excited? If I’m being honest, I used to completely tense up when this unit was up next because it’s a HARD concept for students. Not only was it really difficult for students to understand at times, it often felt repetitive and well….boring. So you know what I had to do- figure out how to PLAY with it!
Before we dive into all the fun, let’s talk a little about the difference between main idea and main topic. While teaching primary grades K-2, it is our responsibility to teach the main topic in preparation for the main idea beginning in third grade. But what’s the difference? The main topic is one or two words about the text, whereas the main idea is a sentence that explains what the text is mostly about. For example, when reading about animals, ‘dolphins’ might be the main topic, while the main idea is ‘Dolphins care for their calves’.
So while the title of this blog is teaching the main idea, take note that these activities will focus on the main TOPIC as it is the prerequisite skill for our primary learners before really diving deeper into the main idea in third grade and on. Of course you can always extend any of these activities as needed but either way, with all this fun, they’ll be on their way to mastery in no time! So let’s get into some enjoyable, hands on, engaging ways to teach the main topic!!
What’s the Bag About?
Setting the stage for this concept can get students SUPER excited about this crucial new skill! This super easy, low prep introductory lesson is an amazing way to get students engaged and interested in the mystery of what they’ll be learning.
Start by creating some topic bags for students. All you need is some paper bags, printed pictures, and a recording sheet. Told you it was super easy! I like to give 6 different topics for students to figure out. You simply cut out the pictures that relate to each topic and stick them in the bag for students. I also like to write the topic on the bottom so students can do a quick self check when they are done. Check out THIS resource where is the activity is completely done for you!
I typically have students work together in groups of 4-5. They will look at the pictures to determine the main topic of all the pictures. Again, since it is the main topic and not the main idea, all they need to come up with is one or two words. Take a look at the pictures below to see some of the fun in action!
Students will rotate through each of the bags working together and getting a great introduction into the main topic. At the end of this lesson, I explain more about what the main topic is and how we use it.
Gallery walks are a great and engaging teaching tool. This activity is another quick, easy, and low prep activity that builds on the introductory lesson. It’s perfect to give students more practice before getting ready to dive into texts.
For this activity, you will create ‘posters’ to display as an art gallery of sorts. Students will rotate through the different posters in groups to determine the main topic, this time using sticky notes to record their answers. For this gallery walk we recreate a serene environment as if we were at an art museum admiring and thinking about what the artist has created. Students work quietly, I like to use the phrase, “brains on, voices off”, as their groups walk and determine the main topic.
After students have had their quiet work time, they will be given an opportunity to share their thoughts before moving on to the next poster. THEY LOVE IT! They are doing some great learning AND having a blast! You can check out our gallery walk video below!
Click HERE to see this activity in action!
Transfer the Skills
Now that students have had a great introduction to this tricky concept, it’s time to dig into ALL the books! This is really important for students because this is where they begin to transfer all those important introductory skills they’ve gained.
To support students’ understanding, I like to use this interactive anchor chart that we use daily during our whole group time. We use a table analogy, helping students understand that the details help support, or ‘hold up’ the main topic. One trick I love to use to really help students master this skill is to work backwards. I’ll have students use sticky notes to share all the details we learned while reading. They get to come up to the interactive chart and stick their details on our table legs. After sharing all the details, we determine the main topic together using our details.
Grab this fun main idea/topic craft that goes perfectly with this concept!
Grab this free resource now!
While students work independently, they get to read a book of their choice while determining the main topic. Students can use the graphic organizers below to get comfortable and then they are given a little more freedom later on in the unit to share their learning in a way that works for them. Learn more about providing student choice HERE!
Some other important topics that can be tied in with this unit are teaching the difference between fiction and nonfiction, as well as how to utilize text features to help us learn more details and determine our main topic. These anchor charts are a few ways to give reference to these other skills while learning about the main topic. They’re a great resource for students to look back to when working independently with their different types of texts.
I know how challenging this topic can be for students but now you can breathe a little easier and have a great time teaching students about this crucial concept! I really hope you enjoyed learning about some engaging ways to teach the main topic/idea to your little learners! Don’t forget to subscribe to my email list! Not only will you get the most up to date tips, tricks, and classroom projects… and of course more fun FREEBIES including the main idea/topic craft FREEBIE! You will also have exclusive access to tons of digital how-to videos! If you would like to learn about this and other things happening in my classroom follow me @sweetnsauerfirsties on Instagram.
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