This lesson is designed to introduce primary students to finding the main idea as a reading-comprehension strategy. The lesson uses the book Chrysanthemum, by Ken Henkes, and has students choose the main idea for sections of the story from a few possible choices. This is the first lesson in a set of lessons designed to teach students how to find the main idea of a story.
Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes
Planning and Dianositics
Finding main ideas is a key skill in the process of making sense of texts. Primary readers are probably ready to discuss "main ideas" when they can respond to questions such as, "What is the most important thing about coming to school?" or "What is the most important thing about owning a pet?" When you ask students questions such as these, you're not looking for a correct answer—you just want to make sure they understand the question and can determine its importance. If they can, they are ready to begin talking about "main ideas" in stories. If not, wait a few weeks and try again.
"Today we're going to read the story Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes. It's about a little mouse with the name...can you guess? [Wait.] That's right, 'Chrysanthemum.' Does anyone know what a chrysanthemum is? [Wait.] It's a kind of flower. Do you think that the little mouse likes her name? Would you like to be named Chrysanthemum? Yes? No? Why? Why not? Let's make a list of nice things about the name Chrysanthemum and not-so-nice things."
Make a table such as the one below. Invite students to help fill in the table.
|Nice things||Not-So-Nice Things|
|Sounds nice.||Too long.|
Chrysanthemum-a type of flower
Absolutely perfect-nothing wrong at all; couldn't be better
Absolutely dreadful-everything wrong; couldn't be worse
Wilted-collapsed, like a flower that hasn't had enough water
Chrysanthemum's father likes to use fancy words such as jaundiced, begrudging, and winsome. These are low-frequency words that are probably not worth specific instruction at this age level. You can just point out that Chrysanthemum's father enjoys using big words.
"Today we're going to talk about main ideas. A main idea is the most important idea in a story or in part of a story. I'll help you think about main ideas in the different parts of the story. Then I'm going to ask you to tell me the main idea of the whole story."
Write the following sentences on chart paper, and read them aloud to your class:
Chrysanthemum loved the way that her name looked on an envelope.
Chrysanthemum loved the way her name sounded when her mother woke her up.
Chrysanthemum loved the way her name sounded and looked.
"Often, the main idea in a story is one that is repeated several times. As you read the story or hear it told, you keep seeing or hearing the main idea over and over, again and again. All of the sentences on the board tell the main idea of the story, but in different ways. I want you to be thinking about the main idea of the first part of the story while I read it."
Read until Chrysanthemum starts school. Then read the sentences you've written on the chart paper. Tell students that you are going to look back in the story and ask yourself the question, "What is the main idea?" only looking for the most important information.
"The story begins with Chrysanthemum's birth. Her parents think that she is perfect, and that the name Chrysanthemum is perfect for her. That her parents think she is perfect and that the name Chrysanthemum is perfect seem important.
"That she loves her name when she is older seems important. That Chrysanthemum loves the way that her name sounds is important. That she loves the sound of it when her mother wakes her is important. That she loves the way that her name looks is important. That she loves the way that it looks on an envelope is important."
Write on the board or chart paper, while you are thinking aloud.
Her parents think she is perfect.
The name Chrysanthemum is perfect.
She love how it sounds.
She loves how it looks.
Main Idea: Chrysanthemum loves her name.
"So, the main idea is that Chrysanthemum loves her name. I am going to circle the main idea so that I will remember later."
Write the following on chart paper:
All of the students in Chrysanthemum's class have short names.
The students tease Chrysanthemum about her name and she feels horrible.
Victoria picks on Chrysanthemum about her name.
Read the above statements to students. Read until Chrysanthemum arrives home from her first day of school. Look back with the students to answer the question, "What is the main idea of this part of the story?"
Using student-generated responses, help them to choose the main idea statement. Provide feedback in the form of guided questions. For example:
What do you think is most important on this page?
Are there any words that are repeated? Repeated words give clues to the main idea.
What do you think the author wanted to say in this part of the story?
Is that what you would tell someone if they asked you what was most important about this part of the story?
Circle the main idea statement: "The students tease Chrysanthemum about her name, and she feels horrible." Ask students to explain their thought processes, and why they chose this statement.
Write the following on chart paper:
Chrysanthemum's parents still think that her name is perfect.
On the second day, Chrysanthemum does not want to go to school because the other students tease her about her name.
Chrysanthemum wants her name to be "Jane."
Read the above statements to students. Read until Chrysanthemum walks slowly to school, writing her name in the dirt. Look back at this part of the story to find the main idea, talking about each page. Ask students, "What do you think was most important on this page?"
Using student-generated responses, help students choose the main idea statement. Ask students to explain their thought processes. Provide feedback in the form of guided questions, then circle the main idea statement.
Write the following on chart paper:
The other students' teasing made Chrysanthemum feel horrible. She did not feel like school was a good place for her.
The other students said that Chrysanthemum even looked like a flower. She felt bad.
Victoria told Chrysanthemum, "I just cannot believe your name."
Read the above statements to the students. Read until the flowers seemed to say, "Chrysanthemum." Have students look back to find the main idea. They can use sticky notes to mark the main idea or they can write it on a piece if paper. Have students think about what happened on each pagee and ask themselves, "What is the most important idea?"
Have students work with a partner to talk about their answer. Ask them to explain their thinking to their partner, especially if they each chose a different statement. Walk around the room to monitor progress. Provide feedback as needed in the form of guiding questions. Give students a chance to change their answers after working with a partner.
Have the following written on chart paper:
All of the other students stop teasing Chrysanthemum because Mrs. Twinkle thinks Chrysanthemum is an absolutely perfect name. Then Chrysanthemum knows her name is perfect.
All of the students think Mrs. Twinkle is wonderful. She is named after a flower.
Mrs. Twinkle thinks that the name Chrysanthemum is absolutely perfect.
Ask students to write down the number of the above statement that most clearly expresses the main idea. Have students work with a partner to talk about their answer. Ask them to explain their thinking to their partner, especially if they each chose a different statement. Walk around the room to monitor progress.
If students exhibit proficiency at finding the main idea, have them choose the main idea of the entire book, using the circled main idea statements from each part of the book to help them. Review the main idea statements from each part of the story, then read the final three choices below aloud to students.
Chrysanthemum is a funny name.
It's wrong to tease people about their names.
Everybody's name is absolutely perfect—for them.
Have students vote on the statement from the above list that seems to best express the main idea of the story, then have them explain their answers. Note: Sentences (2) and (3) are both reasonable ways of expressing the main idea.
Reflection and Planning
Being able to find and express the main idea of a story gives students a structure that helps them organize, explain, and remember what they have read. Think aloud as you model this skill for students so that they get a sense of how an adult thinks about main ideas in stories.
If students have difficulty finding the main idea, read other books aloud and provide choices for the main idea statement. Read the book, and then the sentences, having students choose the main idea statement. Continue to use the vocabulary from this lesson.
When students are proficient at choosing the main idea statement, have them practice stating the main idea in their own words.