Main Idea Activity: Brown Bag Main Idea!

Reading, for many students, is a very abstract concept.  Letters make words and words make sentences and these sentences form some type of meaning.  And then we have multiple sentences in a row to form paragraphs. The rigor increase with every key stroke.  One way to ensure all students understand the reading strategies that we are teaching them is to provide them with a concrete introduction to the strategy.  Basically, this means to allow the students to use as much schema they have about the concept, create a hands on approach, and then apply that understand to text.  This can be done with any reading strategy you teach!  Check out this Main Idea activity, Brown Bag Main Idea lesson for a hands-on reading strategy you can utilize in your classroom.

main idea activity

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This Main Idea activity, Brown Bag Main Idea is a concrete way to introduce or reintroduce Main Idea to your primary students.  It allows students a hands-on approach to understanding how details are related and connected and then support the main idea.  Here’s how it works:

I begin by putting together 6 different Main Idea bags.  Inside each of these bags are objects that are related in some way and together create an obvious overarching topic.  This lesson usually takes me two days with a few mini follow up activities to fill in any cracks and this is all done prior to reading any text!  I want to make sure all of my students understand the concept concretely without the text before they apply it to the text.

On day one, I begin by modeling.  I have my own main idea bag and I model pulling out each item

main idea activity

from the bag and showing it to the students.  After each item I pull out, I ask and discuss how the items are related or ‘What do they have in common?’.  Once all of the items are out of the bag, I then determine how they are all connected – or what the overarching topic of the bag is.  I use a recording sheet through this process to keep track of what’s in the bag and what I determine as the topic.  With the remainder of the bags, the students then work together to do the same – analyze each bag of items to determine the overall topic – now known as the main idea.

main idea activity

On day two, I again model for my students.  This time, I use the same bags as the previous lesson.  This time we are taking our understanding of main idea a bit further.  I begin, with the same bag as I modeled with yesterday.  This time, I again pull out each item of the bag – but instead of talking about it, I write out a sentence or detail about the item.  I do this for each item in the bag.  Then when all of my details have been written, I re-read them out loud and ask myself ‘What do all of these details have in common?’  Once determined, I write out my main idea statement above my details.  I’ve just created a main idea paragraph!  After I’m done modeling, the students again work with the same bags as yesterday and write paragraphs in their groups based on the bags they have.

These lessons typically take me 2-3 days to get through but using this Main Idea activity allows my students a concrete understanding of how the details work

main idea activity

together to support a main idea, what questions they need to and can ask themselves when determining a main idea, and how different details truly are compared to the main idea.  These are things in which we discuss throughout the lessons as I’m continuously relating this concept to text (without using any!).

To follow up the lessons, I do a few fun independent activities to make sure there aren’t any holes to fill.  I love having students create their own bags and then, of course, a main idea paragraph to go

main idea activity

with it!  What the students are able to come up with is truly astounding.  I also have students analyze bags (on paper) with pictures of items inside the bags.  One of the items in the bag doesn’t belong and the students have to determine which item doesn’t and why.  If students are able to determine the unnecessary item, then they are better able to determine important and unimportant details in a text later on.

Overall, this Main Idea activity is an amazing week of developing a concrete understanding to a concept that’s typically difficult for many students!  It may seem like we’re taking a long time to get to the actual reading of a text and determining the main idea the ‘right’ way, but starting here and taking time will pay off in the end, you’ll see!  If you’re interested in any of the printables you see here, definitely check out my Brown Bag Main Idea resource!  Everything you need for this week of lessons is included and more!

main idea activity

Too much to read?  Pin this Main Idea activity for later!

Main Idea activity



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I’m a wife, a mommy of 3, blogger, and a full time teacher author and presenter. I love to read, shop, and spend time with my family! My hands are always busy, but my heart is so full!

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