How can you find main idea and supporting details in informational text? First, locate the thesis statement in the introduction and/or conclusion. Second, determine the topic sentence in each of the middle paragraphs.
Ms. Sneed Teaches Kids How to Find Main Idea and Supporting Details
Our favorite fourth grade teacher stood in front of her class. “Last week, we discussed nonfiction paragraph structure,” she said.
“This week, you’ll learn how to find the main idea and supporting details in multi-paragraph informational text.
“However, before we begin, let’s review the two sides of writing.”
At that, the students rolled their eyes. “Here we go again,” someone muttered.
Nonetheless, Ms. Sneed continued, unfazed. She stretched out her arms and reviewed. First she pointed to her right arm. “Through fiction, we tell stories. This more expressive form of writing is organized on a story arc. Conversely, nonfiction is informative. Its format is more like a hamburger. Which side will we use today?”
“Nonfiction,” some kids murmured.
“The hamburger,” others called out.
Ms. Sneed smiled and nodded. Yes, they were getting it.
Reviewing The Hamburger Model (AKA Main Idea and Supporting Details)
Next, Ms. Sneed displayed a poster. On it, a juicy hamburger reviewed the parts of a nonfiction article. “Generally speaking,” she continued, “an author begins with an introduction and ends with a conclusion. We illustrate them with buns. In the middle, multiple paragraphs elaborate on each supporting detail. This is the ‘meat’ of the essay.”
“Okay, enough reviewing,” said Ms. Sneed. “This week, we’ll complete a unit on main idea and supporting details. Each passage investigates an urban legend.”
The students looked around at each other and raised their eyebrows. They liked urban legends!
Reading a Sample Informational Text
“Today’s informational text is entitled ‘A Chocolate a Day Keeps the Doctor Away.’ We’ll use it to find the main idea and supporting details.” As she distributed the five-paragraph nonfiction essay, Ms. Sneed began to read it aloud.
In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Professor Lupin gave Harry a piece of chocolate to make him feel better. ”Harry took a bite and to his great surprise felt warmth spread suddenly to the tips of his fingers and toes.” Can chocolate actually make you feel better? It may not be an instant cure, but chocolate has some health benefits.
Antioxidants protect our bodies from cell damage. Healthy foods like berries, leafy greens, beans are good sources of antioxidants. Cocoa, a key ingredient in chocolate, also contains antioxidants. Therefore, eating chocolate prevents cell damage.
LDL, or “bad” cholesterol, is a sticky substance that can build up in veins and arteries. If cholesterol blocks a vein, the person can suffer a heart attack. A study from The Journal of Nutrition found that chocolate may help reduce LDL, or “bad” cholesterol, in the body.
Several more studies show that lavado, a chemical in cocoa, can prevent damage to nerves in the brain. This can improve thinking. Chocolate may also help patients with Alzheimer’s disease.
Cocoa in chocolate has some surprising health benefits. Antioxidants prevent cell damage. Chocolate can reduce chances of heart attack. It may even improve your thinking. What a delicious way to stay healthy!
The teacher added, “Always read the entire text first. That way, you can get a feel for the overall topic. At this point, what do you think this essay is about?”
“Ah-ha. Yes. But we need to find something a little more specific. It’s time to learn where to look.”
Applying the Hamburger Analogy to Find Main Idea and Supporting Details
Next, Ms. Sneed displayed a copy of “A Chocolate a Day Keeps the Doctor Away.” Using a black marker, she drew buns around the first and last paragraphs. Then she sketched burgers around each of the middle sections.
“Here you see how the hamburger model works with the article we just read. This analogy helps us find the main idea and supporting details.”
Teaching How to Find the Main Idea
After placing a fresh copy of the article on the projector, Ms. Sneed lowered her voice. “Now I will tell you a secret. To find the main idea, just look in the buns. Usually, authors of nonfiction include a thesis statement in one or both of these paragraphs. And the thesis statement tells the main idea.
“Look carefully at the introduction. Can you find a thesis statement?”
“The last sentence?” one child suggested.
“Right! Specifically, ‘chocolate has some health benefits.'”
She pointed to the conclusion. “How about here?”
After studying the paragraph for a few seconds, some hands shot up.
“The first sentence,” another student responded.
“Right again. It also talks about the health benefits of chocolate. And that is the main idea.”
Teaching How to Find the Supporting Details
Next, Ms. Sneed focused on the middle paragraphs. “We’ll use two strategies to find supporting details. First, they must support our main idea: health benefits of chocolate. Second, they can be found in the topic sentences of each paragraph. Work with your seat partner to find them for each paragraph.”
Quickly, the students paired up and got to work. In no time, they were ready to discuss. In the second paragraph, they found that chocolate reduces LDL. Then, in the third, antioxidants protect us from cell damage. Finally, in the fourth paragraph, they learned that lavado prevents damage to nerves in the brain.
Moving to the Boxes and Bullets Organizer
Before they wrapped up, Ms. Sneed introduced a new organizer. “Obviously,” she said, “you can’t go through life drawing hamburgers. As a matter of fact, it’s much easier to simply sketch a box and some bullets.”
To demonstrate, the teacher organized the main idea and supporting details in this way:
Chocolate has surprising health benefits.
- Chocolate may help reduce LDL, or bad cholesterol.
- Antioxidants in chocolate protect our bodies from cell damage.
- Lavado, a chemical in cocoa, can prevent damage to nerves in the brain.
“Tomorrow,” Ms. Sneed added, “we’ll learn about summarizing nonfiction.” She lowered her voice again, “But just between you and me, once you create this box and bullets, you’ve already found the main idea supporting details. The rest is super easy.”
Enjoy Teaching Main Idea and Supporting Details
As Ms. Sneed headed back to her desk, she sighed. Teaching main idea and supporting details was one of the harder skills in the ELA block. Then that little teacher smile spread across her face. But it was key to understanding informational text, and this lesson really helped.