Teaching students literacy concepts can be confusing if you are unsure of the differences in these concepts. Let’s break down some of these common confusions that elementary students have and try to simplify them so they are more clear. If you are struggling with teaching these concepts, try thinking about what you want your students’ goals to be. This will help you to be able to figure out how to achieve the goal by working backwards. Some goals often include things like:
- Being able to understand the story
- Identifying the main ideas and supporting details
- Build deeper understanding of the story through the theme
- Connect different ideas together from the story
- Improve reading skills and comprehension
- Identify characters and how they connect with each other
Teaching Main Idea
It is easy for young students to confuse “main idea” with other concepts such as “theme” or “supporting details.” Main Idea is a little less tricky than the theme. Once you understand where the author is going with the story, and you understand what the story is about, then you understand what the main idea is. Think of it as “the big picture.” Some tips for when you are teaching main idea are:
- What do some of the details in the book point to?
- Look at chapter headings
- Read the concluding paragraphs of each chapter and of the end of the book
Theme usually has a moral or lesson to be taught, whereas the main idea can usually be written in a quick sentence summary. Oftentimes, the author will not explicitly state what the theme is, but will imply it throughout the entirety of the story. This will make it tricky to identify immediately what the theme is. This means the students will need to read the whole story, understand it, and analyze it before making an assessment. Tips for finding the theme:
- Use context clues such as repeated words
- Look at the front cover and pictures in the book
- Read captions on any illustrations
- What do you think the author wants you to learn from the story?
Teaching Supporting details
Supporting details are the details that support what the main idea of the story is. These will be clues that lead to the main idea. Some supporting detail examples could include things like important facts about the character or setting. Clues that might mean you have found a supporting detail, in some cases begin the sentences with words such as: furthermore, in addition, firstly, second, thirdly, next, then, finally, etc.
Use Picture Books
Picture books, especially with the younger students will be the most helpful. At the beginning, find books with plots and characters that the students might be able to find a connection with and can relate to. The pictures in the book will help the students to visualize the story. As the students become more advanced and more familiar with main idea and theme, try introducing themes and concepts that may be new to them. This will help them to be able to begin to identify the theme and main ideas on their own as they advance.
Use Graphic Organizers
Some students are just more visual learners than others. It will greatly help if students can physically organize their thoughts, especially through a long story. These will be visually organized notes that the students can refer to and write down as they learn something new in the story.