My kids are getting pretty good at developing a main idea sentence when I provide them with key words. Which is great, right? But the point of reading (and unfortunately, testing) isn’t to tell what the main idea is after your teacher gives you a list of five words.

No. We want our kids to be able to read a passage, and in a sentence or so, tell you what it was about.

As a way to build independence, we began brainstorming a list of POSSIBLE key words. We talked about WHY we were using the word possible.

Since we are only reading a small part of the text, we might later learn that the whole things ISN’T about something that we have written down. It’s a work in progress.

Text with text "What a Smart Idea!" and paper with text "Possible Keywords"

After reading a few paragraphs about a spider that uses a clever trap to catch a frog, we made a list of possible key words. We wrote down anything and everything that seemed important.

Text showing chimps and possible keywords paper with words written on it

Then, we read another section of the text. In these paragraphs, we learned about chimps getting a snack. Since their hands were too large for the hole, they had to get creative. They used a stick to get their bugs.

After reading about the chimps, we added a few more words to our paper.

Possible Keywords paper with text crossed out or boxed around

After reading these two sections, we realized that we had a long list of animals. Did we REALLY need that many individual animals? Maybe we could choose a word or two that better describes those four words. My students wanted to replace spiders and chimps with the word animals. They also thought that the words frog and bugs could be replaced with the word prey. I loved to hear their thinking and was so proud of their vocabulary.

Text showing a picture of chimps and possible keywords paper with main idea sentence added

After narrowing down a few keywords, we are ready to write a sentence that tells what the main idea of the passage is.

Text showing art and possible keywords paper with words crossed out, words boxed, and the main idea sentence

The next week, we read about various artists and where they find inspiration. Once again, we jotted down several keywords after each page. Some of my students wanted to list each artist. Others thought that was a waste of time. They were already seeing that the whole passage wouldn’t be all about ONE artist, but rather multiple artists. We could keep it simple.

By the time we finish our list, they are MORE than ready to begin transitioning to writing a main idea sentence that uses several of our keywords. It’s also something that they can do on their own!

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