Main Idea Teaching Activities

Teaching Main Idea to Upper Elementary Students

We all know that understanding  main idea is an essential reading and writing skill, but do you struggle with how to teach it? Are you having trouble finding impactful ideas that will engage your students?

In this blog post, you will find various engaging activities and resources that you can use to teach the main ideas effectively. By incorporating these strategies, students will become more adept at identifying main ideas and supporting details within paragraphs and have fun learning how to do so.

Be sure to get the handout. It includes the printables you need to complete some of the activities.

Activities for Teaching Main Ideas

Activity # 1: Introducing the Main Idea

Teaching Upper Elementary Students to Find the Main Idea

Kickstart your lesson by using one of these ideas.

Idea 1: Using Visuals

  1. Begin with engaging visuals such as photos or illustrations.
  2. Select pictures that depict various activities or scenes, like a circus performance.
  3. Ask students to describe what they see in the image.
  4. Type these so students can view the list on a SmartBoard or write them on a whiteboard.
  5. Once you have enough details, challenge the students to summarize the picture using five words or fewer.
  6. This concise summary will serve as the main idea derived from the image.


Idea 2: Tell Me in Five Words or Less

Another effective approach is to have students share their weekend experiences in five words or less, selecting their words carefully to convey the key events. This activity helps students practice narrowing down a topic and identifying the main idea.

Example: football, pizza, Grandma, video games (These words provide great information, and classmates can imagine what the student did over the weekend.)
This activity gets students thinking in terms of narrowing down a topic.

Activity #2: Creating a Main Idea Anchor Chart

Teaching Upper Elementary Students to Find the Main Idea

Idea 1: Reference Anchor Chart

Create an anchor chart for the classroom to give students a visual reference like the one pictured with basic information. Include definitions and facts for students to reference throughout their main idea study.

Teaching Upper Elementary Students to Find the Main Idea

Idea 2: Activity Anchor Chart

Create an anchor chart based on a theme using a theme such as a circus, carnival, desert, or classroom. Have students describe the details taking place and then develop a sentence that tells the main idea of these details.

After modeling the main idea and supporting details using the anchor chart, have students practice this idea using a different topic. Divide the class into small groups and assign each group an illustration, such as a busy city street, zoo, or other location with a lot of action. In their groups, students should generate a list of sentences describing events in the assigned area. After five minutes of brainstorming, ask each group member to read the sentences aloud while the class identifies the place described. Next, instruct the groups to determine the main idea and construct a topic sentence for their list of details.

Activity #3: Matching Pictures to Paragraphs

Teaching Upper Elementary Students to Find the Main Idea

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

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

Matching Activity

Activity #4: Matching Paragraphs to Titles

Activity 4 is a twist on Activity 3. Cut out paragraphs from magazines, old textbooks, or discarded library books, and glue each paragraph to an index card. Create separate index cards with titles that correspond to each paragraph. Similar to Activity #3, take a picture as an answer key. Again, students can work individually or with a partner to read the paragraphs, choose the most suitable title from the provided cards, and match the cards accordingly. To differentiate instruction, make this activity more challenging by providing some students with the paragraphs only and having them write titles.

Activity #5: Working with Paragraphs

Teaching Upper Elementary Students to Find the Main Idea


Locate the twenty paragraphs in the handout. After duplicating the paragraphs, cut them 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. These lines divide the page into four equal sections. Next, tell students to glue their paragraphs in the centers of the pages.

Have students label the four sections created by drawing the horizontal and vertical lines: 

  • Who? or What? 
  • When? Where? or How?
  • Main Idea
  • Title

The illustration below shows how to label these four sections.  


Students read the paragraph and answer the questions. Next, they write a sentence stating the passage’s main idea. Finally, students write a good title that says the main idea.

Activity #6: Printable Activities

Casey Jones

The handout includes several printable activities. 

Handout 1: Organizer

The first is a simple graphic organizer. Students use this organizer to summarize an article, paragraph, or story by writing the main idea in the center of the organizer and details in the spaces around the center.

Handout 2: The Ballad of Casey Jones

Students read the lyrics to “The Ballad of Casey Jones” and then complete the provided organizer by listing the main idea and supporting details.

This activity is from my resource Main Idea on Teachers Pay Teachers.


Activity #7: Using Animated Shorts to Teach Main Idea and Details

Casey Jones

Have students watch the animated Pixar short titled Lifted. Then complete the printable provided in the handout. 

This activity is a sample of my Teaching Reading and Writing Skills with Animated Short Films.

Animated Short Lifted
Play Video about Animated Short Lifted

Teaching students the main idea and structure of paragraphs is essential for developing their reading and writing skills. By incorporating engaging activities such as analyzing visuals, creating anchor charts, and matching paragraphs, teachers can enhance students’ ability to identify main ideas and supporting details.

Utilizing resources like animated shorts and graphic organizers makes learning fun for students. By implementing these strategies, teachers help students become proficient in comprehending and effectively expressing the main idea of texts.

Gay Miller

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