This blog series will focus on intervention strategies you might try with students as they adjust to the academic expectations of the new school year, readjust to in-person instruction, and/or continue to receive instruction remotely. Each blog in the series will focus on one of the following domains of ELA instruction:

  • Listening and Speaking
  • Phonics and Fluency
  • Comprehension and Analysis
  • Spelling and Writing Composition

Before jumping into this blog post, see the firstsecond and third in this series.

In this blog, we’ll focus on main idea/details and theme/author’s message.

Main Idea and Details

Early elementary students begin to understand main ideas and details by first identifying main topics of texts and the details that talk about the topics. As upper elementary and middle school students read more complex texts, they notice patterns in where and how authors state main idea(s) and how they support the ideas with relevant details.

  • Pick a Detail (Grades K–2)—Write the name of a familiar location and features of the location on individual notecards (e.g., playground: slide, swings, seesaw). Have each member of a small group draw a card and show it to the group. Guide students to identify which card names the main topic (the location) and which cards name the details about the topic (the features). Help students arrange the cards to indicate the organization of the ideas (e.g., main topic card in the center with detail cards surrounding, or a tree map formation).
  • Get the Gist (Grades 3–8)—After reading a brief informational text with students, record sentences from the text (either direct quotes or paraphrases) on notecards or sentence strips and post throughout the room. One sentence should state the main idea of the text and the other sentences should state details. Have pairs of students move about the room, review the sentences, and “get the gist,” or the main idea sentence, by returning to their seats with the sentence card. Guide students to articulate how they identified the main idea and how they will “get the gist” of informational texts they read in the future.

Theme and Author’s Message

Understanding the messages authors share in both literary and informational texts require deep thinking and is challenging for students of all ages. As upper elementary and middle school students become increasingly capable of abstract thought, they can derive more meaning from texts.

  • Essential Questions (Grades 4 and up)—Present students with an essential question, such as What makes a good friend? or What are our responsibilities as citizens? Then, read aloud a text that addresses the essential question explicitly (e.g., an Aesop fable or an article about a current event). Guide students to consider how the author would likely answer the essential question based on the stated theme or message in the text. Then, read a different text that addresses the same question but does not state the theme/message explicitly. Guide students to identify evidence that helps them determine how the author would answer the question (e.g., a character’s actions or the resolution of the conflict). As an extension, have students consider whether the authors of the two texts would agree or disagree about the answer to the essential question.
  • Match the Quote (Grades 6 and up)—After reading a text with students, give each pair or small group a different inspirational quote, with only one quote expressing the theme or message of the text. Guide students to discuss whether their quote expresses the theme or message of the text, and to explain why or why not using these sentence frames: This quote relates to the theme of the text because they both express the idea that ___. This quote does not match the theme of the text because the text is trying to say ____, while this quote says ____. For example, after reading “The Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry, you might give one pair or group this quote from Judy Garland: “I can live without money, but I cannot live without love” and another pair or group this quote from Epicurus: “Self-sufficiency is the greatest of all wealth.” Both quotes mention money/wealth, but only the Judy Garland quote expresses a central idea similar to that of the text. As an extension, ask students to imagine what the author of the text and the author of the matching quote might say to each other if they were to meet, and then have students create graphic novel-style pages to portray the imagined meeting.

Reading and writing are linked. Students produce better writing when they are exposed to quality mentor texts, and similarly, they better recognize author’s craft as readers when they practice it as writers. In the final blog in this series, we’ll discover ideas for providing writing interventions.