Hello, friends! Did you have a great Easter break? It probably went by way too fast, and now we’re in full-on countdown mode. T-minus 24 days for me! We ate a decadent quiche on Easter, as per our tradition. It’s delicious but soooo rich that I only make it once a year. At least I got a long walk in before we ate and the rain arrived. Then I got to enjoy watching my St. Louis Blues in the playoffs. Yep, life is good.
Addressing Multiple Standards
In my last post, I wrote about how my students learn social studies vocabulary with a graphic organizer. Today I want to show you another graphic organizer I created to address several reading skills. I designed it to be used with any nonfiction text, which gives teachers lots of flexibility on when they want to use it. Since finding instructional time to teach science and social studies can be a real challenge, I often have my students use it during those subjects. That way I can address multiple standards and maximize our time. #winning
Selecting Informational Text
First, select a short informational text passage. For struggling readers, I usually begin with a single paragraph. As they improve in their reading skills, you can choose lengthier passages. Search through your textbooks or online for paragraphs/passages of the appropriate reading level for your students. If I was running short on time, I would have my students read paragraphs that focused on a science or social studies topic. That was often a good review for a previously taught lesson. Since we had studied the topic earlier, this overcame any prior knowledge barrier that might have existed. Instead of concentrating on the topic, my students were free to practice their reading skills. Below you can see a paragraph I wrote to address one of our social studies standards about the Declaration of Independence. You can also look online for passages. My co-teacher loves ReadWorks for quality, easy-to-find passages. It’s free, and they are always adding great content. Once you’ve selected the text, make enough copies of it and the graphic organizer for your students. Students write the title of the text (if there is one) at the top. That’s the easy part, right?
Time for the Topic
When identifying the topic, I teach my students to use the title or subtitle (if there is one) as an aid. Also, the topic is defined as what the text is about in just a few words. I use to tell my students that it should be 1-2 words, but that was a little too specific and gave us some problems. For instance, in the passage shown above the topic could be “the Declaration of Independence.” Even if you removed the article “the,” you’re still left with 3 words. I revised the organizer to say “a few” words. For teaching purposes, you could have students hold up their hands and keep it to five words or less – one for each finger.
Main Idea vs. Topic
One pet peeve that my colleagues and I have about identifying the main idea is how students come to us confusing the topic and the main idea. For instance, many students will want to write the following when asked to identify the main idea: “The main idea is the Declaration of Independence.” Uhh…nope. That’s the topic. I teach my students that the topic would answer the question, “What? What is the passage about?” The main idea would then answer the question, “So what? So what’s so important about the topic?” Also, the main idea should be a complete sentence, as opposed to the “just a few words” for the topic. I have my students underline the topic within the main idea sentence so they can see the connection between these ideas. It definitely takes practice, but start off with simple paragraphs and then use longer passages as students grow in skill.
Key Details Are Next
Once students have identified the topic and main idea, it’s time to answer the question, “Can you tell me more about the main idea?” Have students find small pieces of information that tell more about the main idea. When first teaching, model this process a lot. Also, be prepared for a paragraph or passage to have more than three key details. Teach students that these “keys” serve to unlock the main idea by giving more information that helps you understand it better.
Wrap It Up With a Summary
Finally, after we’ve read through the text multiple times to identify the topic, main idea, and key details, it’s time to write a summary. As a concrete example, I like to use a large sticky note with lines about the size of a small notepad. I put it on a blank piece of paper next to a tiny sticky note. Then I tell my students that summarizing is like shrinking the text down to a smaller size. We use fewer words, but the words we use are really important. Again, modeling here is critical. Show students how to use the topic, main idea, and details in their summaries. When having students first summarize, I like to use the GIST strategy. This strategy has been around a long time and simply has students write a summary using 20 words. Something about having a specific number like 20 really helps students in the early stages of learning to summarize. As they develop their skills, you can move away from this number especially as the passages get longer.
Speaking of length, this post sure fits that description! Maybe I shouldn’t write while I’m watching hockey…? LOL! Anyway, below is a link to the passages and graphic organizer featured in today’s post. It’s free and can be used with just about any nonfiction text. Happy teaching!