Main Idea Teaching Activities

Main Idea Teaching ActivitiesTeachers should begin main idea lessons by explaining the basic structure of paragraphs.

EXAMPLE — A paragraph consists of a group of sentences that relate to a specific topic called the main idea or central thought. The main idea is expressed in a sentence called the topic sentence. The remaining sentences add details. These are called supporting details. When reading a paragraph look for transition words [but, however, etc.]. These often change the meaning of the paragraph. Readers can look for the main idea by asking Who? or What?. Answers to Where? When? and Why? usually provide details to support the main idea.

Get all the handouts from this post here.

Activity # 1 – Introducing Main Idea

  • I love to start teaching the main idea and supporting details with photos and illustrations. You need pictures with a lot of activities taking place such as a circus scene. Ask students to tell you what is taking place in the photo. Write each of these on the board. You should get many details. Once you have a dozen or so details, ask students to sum up the picture in five words or less. This should be your main idea.

  • Another way to introduce the main idea is to have students tell you about their weekend in 5 words or less. They must choose these words carefully so that you know what took place.

Example ~ football, pizza, Grandma, video games (These words provide great information and classmates can imagine what the student did over the weekend.)

This activity really gets students thinking in terms of narrowing down a topic. 

Activity #2 – Anchor Chart

This is the anchor chart I created for my classroom. The anchor chart gives a brief example of main ideas and supporting details using a circus theme.

Use this idea as a springboard for brainstorming. Divide the class into small groups. Provide each group with a topic such as a carnival, desert, or classroom. Have students write a list of sentences that tell events that take place in this location. After about five minutes, have one student read the sentences written by the group while the class determines the location. Next have students come up with the main idea and a topic sentence for the list of sentences that were created.

Main Idea Anchor Chart

Activity #3 – Matching Pictures to Paragraphs

Cut out pictures from old textbooks or workbooks, magazines, etc. Glue these on index cards. Cut out a paragraph about each picture. This could be the sidebars or picture captions provided in the text. Place these in an envelope. Prepare an answer key by placing matching pictures and paragraphs together and taking a photograph.

Students can work individually or in pairs to read the paragraphs and match the photographs or illustrations next to the correct paragraphs

Five Ideas for Teaching Main Idea and Supporting DetailsActivity #4 – Matching Paragraphs to Titles

Cut out paragraphs from magazines, old textbooks, or discarded books from the library. Glue each on an index card. On separate index cards, glue a title for each paragraph. Similarly to Activity #2, take a picture to use as an answer key. Again, students may work individually or with a partner. Students read the paragraphs, decide which makes the best title from the cards provided, and place the cards in pairs.


  • Use titles, photographs, and paragraphs. Students must match all three.
  • A follow-up activity to this is to provide paragraphs only. Students must write their own titles. 

Activity #5 –  Working with Paragraphs

This link contains a handout with a series of twenty paragraphs. Cut the paragraphs apart and give one to each student. Have students take a piece of construction paper and draw a horizontal line across the middle of the page. Students then draw a vertical line down the center. This divides the page into four equal sections. Next glue the paragraph in the center of the page. Label the four sections as shown. The handout includes a printable of this if you prefer. 

Teaching Main Idea and Supporting Details Ideas


Students read the paragraph and answer the questions. Next, they write a sentence that states the main idea of the passage. Finally, students write a good title for the paragraph.

Five Main Idea and Supporting Details Teaching Strategies with Free Printables

Activity #6 –  Using Animated Shorts to Teach Main Idea and Details

This link takes you to another blog post where you can download a free sample of my Teaching Reading and Writing Skills with Animated Short Films. Embedded in the blog is the Pixar animated short Lifted. Click on the link Handout in the post to download the printable with the answer key that goes with the video.

Check out the first post in this series for more ideas on teaching the main idea.

Activity #7 – Anchor Chart

This is the anchor chart I created for my classroom. Although it provides only basic information, it really helped students understand the concept of the main idea and supporting details.

Main Idea Anchor Chart

Below are some resources to help you with your study. Just click on the images below to download free items or visit the sites mentioned.

Activity #8 – Free Printable Graphic Organizer

Ten Ideas to Use when Teaching Main Idea - Includes free printable activities.

Grab this free paragraph organizer here.

Free Printable Main Idea and Details Graphic Organizer

Activity #9 – Reading Ideas on Pinterest

Main Idea on Pinterest

Activity #10 –  Download a Free Sample Activity from my Main Idea Unit

This is a free sample activity from my Main Ideas and Supporting Details unit. You can download it by clicking on the image below.

Free Sample from the Main Idea Unit

If you are looking for some additional main idea and supporting details activities, you may wish to take a look at this product on Teachers Pay Teachers.  Just click on the cover image below to go to the Teachers Pay Teachers website.

Main Idea and Supporting Details Unit on Teachers Pay TeachersCheck out the follow-up blog post by clicking this link.

Pin for LaterTeaching Ideas for Main Idea - This blog post includes 10 teaching ideas with anchor charts, a graphic organizer, and free printables.


Gay Miller

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