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Home > Reading Comprehension > Main Idea

Main Idea

Building Blocks of Comprehension: What's the Big Idea?   

This kind of exercise is a good stepping-stone for learning how to read a paragraph or longer passage and figure out the main idea.

Instead of working with paragraphs and pages, start with words -- and concrete, comprehensible words. This kind of exercise is easy to individualize by considering readability (though reading it over with the student to make sure this doesn't present problems of its own is a good idea), vocabulary, abstractness, degree to which the ideas are related, etc.

For younger students, non-readers, second-language students, or very visual learners, you can introduce this with pictures -- show three flowers and ask what they have in common. Don't take understanding for granted -- for some students you should start simple and concrete, until it's an easy process. Only then, introduce abstractions like the fact that one thing could be in two different categories, for different reasons (yellow things and flowers, for example). Allow for some variation, and use it diagnostically. If a student perceives snakes and lizards as animals, that's correct -- but you'll want to focus on narrowing things down a bit while making sure there's the background knowledge to make the classifications you're expecting.

Individualizing exercises to student areas of culture and interest can be especially beneficial.  These are not culturally diverse exercises; adapt!  embellish!   I plan to ;)   These were also very pre-Internet; I imagine students being able to search for items to have its own potential, especially since this isn't a "copy this from Google" exercise.  

Sample Question: What is the name of the group to which these things belong (or "what's a good title for this list?")


Exercise 1: basic list

Exercise 2: basic list (printable file) 

Basic Exercise 2
Exercise 3 - adding your own detail

Exercise 4 - adding your own detail
Harry Potter categories - 1
Harry Potter Categories - 2

 NEW:  (August 2021): 

Name category  RTF for printing out 

Name Category RTF for printing out

Name category and add one to list 

      RTF for printing out 

EW :) (August 2021) Sort topics into 2 groups and name the categories

      RTF (rich text format) for downloading and typing on)

      RTF for printing out (with lines to write on)


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