This lesson is designed to help primary students continue working to find the main idea as a reading-comprehension strategy. The lesson uses the book Animals Born Alive and Well, by Ruth Heller, and has students make a list of what mammals have in common, and choose the main idea of the story. This is the second lesson in a set of lessons designed to teach students how to find the main idea of a story.
This lesson builds on the skill of finding the main idea, and assumes that you have already been working with your students on the practice of finding main ideas in text. If not, you might want to use the introductory lesson, Main Idea: Chrysanthemum.
Animals Born Alive and Well, by Ruth Heller
Say something like, "Today we're going to read Animals Born Alive and Well, by Ruth Heller. It's a book about mammals. Does anyone know what a mammal is? [Wait.] It's a kind of animal. Let's talk about mammals and make a table with animals we know that are mammals and animals we know that are not mammals."
Mammals Not Mammals human chickadee dog goldfish
Now, create a table and start to list the things that are the same about mammals.
Features of Mammals warm blood
Don't worry if students suggest some features that are shared by non-mammals as well. However, if students suggest features that only some mammals have (e.g., long tails), then you can challenge them, saying, "Are you sure all mammals have long tails?"
Once you have a good list and students agree on what mammals are and that they have certain features in common, then read the book to find out more about mammals, adding to the list as you read.
Mammals-animals that have hair and nurse their young
Nurse-to get milk from the mother
Tell students that they will continue to work on finding main ideas. Ask students what a main idea is. They should respond that main ideas are the most important ideas in a text. Tell students that they can't really understand a book unless they understand the main ideas. During the lesson, you will help them find the main ideas in the different parts of this book. Later, they will tell you the main idea of the whole book.
"Let's look at this book carefully before we read it. Look at the cover. Look at the title. Look at the pictures. What do you think that this book is going to be about? Also, can you guess the main idea?"
You may want to take this opportunity to distinguish between the topic and the main idea. Tell students that the book is about mammals. That's the topic, but it's not the main idea. The main idea will be something about mammals. Tell students that you will find out what the author wants you to know about mammals. Ask them, "What do you think might be the main idea about mammals?" Then read and find out.
Say something such as,
"Often authors use something called a 'topic sentence' to tell readers what the main idea is. A topic sentence often comes at the beginning of a text. It tells the main idea of the text. Let's look at Animals Born Alive and Well to see if there is a topic sentence at the beginning that states the main idea. 'Mammals are animals with fur or hair that nurse their young and breathe fresh air...their babies are born alive and well.' Is that the main idea?
"Remember that authors often repeat words and ideas that tell the main idea. Let's read the story and see if we can find the ideas in these first sentences repeated again in the book."
Read until the sentence, "Mammals tame all do more or less the same." Have students retell the last few pages in their own words. Look back at the last few pages to find that the author shows animals nursing. She says that, "Camels are like all the others, they are nourished by their mothers." So, ask students what to add to the list. They should respond that "nursing their young" should be added to the list of things that mammals have in common.
Read until, "But mammals living in the sea have to surface frequently." Ask students to think about what else mammals have in common. Let students add their own words to the list. They may add something such as, "breathe fresh air."
Mammals warm blood
hair or fur
babies born alive
nurse their young with milk
breathe fresh air
Write the numbered choices listed below on the board or chart paper, and have students think about what the main idea is. Have students write down the main idea, and draw a picture or write about their choice.
Some readers may think that the main idea of the book is something like "Mammals have fur, breathe fresh air, and nurse their young." Strictly speaking, the main idea is that all mammals have certain things in common. That mammals have fur or hair, breathe fresh air, and nurse their young are "supporting details" to the main idea.
Ask student to read the choices below and choose the main idea of the book.
Mammals have nurse their young and breathe fresh air.
All mammals are the same in certain ways.
Have students draw pictures of two different mammals, showing one thing that is the same. Students who are capable of writing should be encouraged to write something about their pictures at the bottom. If students have truly understood the lesson, they will write about what the two different mammals have in common. They might write something like "All mammals are the same in some ways."
Reflection and Planning
Finding main ideas is a difficult skill for early readers, so it's not unusual if many of your students are still struggling with the concept. A sign of progress is if students seem to be able to distinguish between a topic (mammals) and a main idea (e.g., all mammals are the same in some ways).
If students are struggling, you might want to reteach this lesson, along with the introductory lesson, Main Idea: Chrysanthemum, using different books to find the main ideas. For more help, read Main Idea, an introductory article on the topic of main ideas.