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Identifying Important Information in Text

written by: Michelle McFarland-McDaniels • edited by: SForsyth • updated: 9/11/2012

This article focuses on strategies for teaching students how to identify important information in text.

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    Preparing to Teach the Lesson

    Preparation is the key to both teaching effectively and making optimal use of your instructional time.

    In order to teach this lesson, you will need the following materials:chalkboard, chalk, chart paper, markers, an overhead projector, wet erase markers, transparencies, highlighters, and copies of short pieces of text to use as handouts for students to practice with.

    Make sure you have all of the aforementioned materials organized and readily available for use. Ensure that the handouts and highlighters are readily accessible to students or are able to be quickly and easily distributed to them.

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    A Word About Text Selections

    This lesson is effective with both fiction and nonfiction texts, but is especially well suited for teaching content area literacy skills and teaching reading for information. It is crucial to choose short, highly readable text selections with this lesson. This is especially critical when working with students who have some challenges identifying the main idea of a paragraph or passage--either directly stated or implied. Simple, straightforward factual text selections are highly recommended for use with students that need additional support in these areas. Time for Kids, Scholastic News and Stephanie Harvey's Source Book of Short Text are some good resources for locating appropriate text selections.

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    Teaching the Lesson

    1. Explain to your students that every text selection contains information that the author considers extremely important for his or her readers to understand. Tell them that they are about to learn how to identify important information in nonfiction text. Go on to state that one of the most important steps in identifying important information in nonfiction text is to figure out the main idea of the text selection.

    2. Write a definition of the term “main idea” on chart paper or the chalkboard. Your definition should state—using words that are appropriate for your students’ age or grade level—that the main idea of a text selection is mainly or mostly about. Elaborate by explaining that the (supporting) details in a text selection will explain the main idea, provide more information about the main idea or provide interesting facts about the main idea.

    3. Turn on your overhead projector. Tell your students you’d like for them to read along silently as you read the first couple of paragraphs aloud to them. Be sure to “think aloud” as you read—pointing out what the selection seems to be mostly about and what details seem to support your contention…without identifying the main idea of the selection outright.

    4. After you’ve read the selection ask students to turn and talk to their neighbor about what they think the main idea of the text selection is from what they’ve read so far. Remind them that the main idea is what the text is mainly or mostly about.

    5. Have student pairs share and discuss what they think the main idea is with the whole group. Make sure they support their ideas about the main idea of the text selection. If there is any disagreement, have students debate their ideas.

    6. List students’ ideas about the main idea on chart paper or the chalkboard. If students misidentify supporting details as main ideas, point this out and explain why the details support the main idea and help them correctly identify the main idea.

    7. Use a wet erase marker to highlight the main idea on the overhead transparency. Instruct students to highlight the main idea on their handouts.

    8. Tell students that once they’ve found the main idea, they will need to identify important details that explain the main idea, elaborate upon the main idea or provide additional information about the main idea. Instruct students to highlight this information and to write “explain,” “elaborate” or “additional” next to the information they choose to highlight. Direct students to disregard information that does not explain, elaborate upon or provide additional information about the main idea.

    9. Circulate around the room and use what you learn from your observations to identify students who could benefit from additional support.