Determine the main topic of a text; Retell a text (Inclusive Big Idea #2)

What are students learning?

Reading Informational Text

Grade 2: English Language Arts

Inclusive Big Idea #2: Determine the main topic of a text; Retell a text

Standard: Identify the main topic of a multi-paragraph text as well as the focus of specific paragraphs within the text. RI.2.2

How could I teach this?

Think about how instructional strategies and activities can give students multiple ways to engage with learning. One way won’t work for all, so how can you remove and reduce barriers for all students?

  • Graphic Organizer: Have students write, match, or place pictures with written labels in a graphic organizer to record the key events from a text. Then students answer questions about the text either verbally or by pointing to the correct picture in the graphic organizer. You can also color code the aspects of the text on the graphic organizer (e.g., main idea = green, key details = yellow, ending = red). To help students track key details that may help them determine the central message, provide a list of transition signal words for reference on an anchor chart (e.g., first, next, after, before, last). Learn more about graphic organizers in this TIP Sheet.
  • Think Aloud: To model retelling, read aloud or listen to a text with the class. At different points, demonstrate how to retell the text and find the key details that help determine the main idea as a model for your students. You can use visuals from the text and model how to look back in the text and match the visual in order to retell the text or use note-taking techniques to record main ideas as you read. See this TIP Sheet for more information on how to model using a Think Aloud.
    • Preview the type of information to look for prior to reading the text. Practice finding key events with a set of short paragraphs or very short texts. Provide graphic organizers, visuals, or ways for students to track the key ideas.
    • Model think-aloud of key events and evidence supporting a main idea from the story. Include helpful sentence stems for thinking aloud.
    • Record any transitional signal words used in the text.
    • Identify visuals that represent the key events of a given text.
  • Information Coding: Provide students with a digital or paper copy of the text for the students to mark. Students can collaborate or work individually to create a coding system to help them mark and understand the text. The coding system might look something like this:
    • Code: "________________", Meaning: Here is the main topic
    • Code: "***", Meaning: A main detail that supports the topic
  • Instructional Conversations: Individually, in small groups, or with the whole class, engage a conversation about a content-area topic. Activate background by asking students to record or share what they already know about the topic. Provide direct information about the topic to build their knowledge, such as videos, texts, images, or other media. Present different questions (verbally or on handouts) about the topic and allow the group to have an open conversation about the topic. Students should support their ideas by using information they learned from books or other multimedia sources. They can use graphic organizers or other ways to record their ideas to help them contribute to the conversation in flexible ways. See this TIP Sheet for more information on Whole Group Discussions.
  • Think, Pair, Share: Ask students to think and record ideas individually about a question or prompt, then meet with a peer to discuss their answers. After they have had time to discuss with a peer, they can share their thoughts with the rest of the class verbally, or using images, recordings, or other means to share. Learn more about Think, Pair, Share in this TIP Sheet.

Don’t stop here! Remember to reduce barriers for all students.

Make reducing barriers a process - take a few minutes to think about your process! Is there a barrier related to:

  • interest or engagement? Think about how to incorporate student’s lived experiences, culture, and interests… 
  • background knowledge? Think about how to highlight key ideas and define key vocabulary… 
  • showing what they know? Think about having options for how they use learning tools and technology to communicate…

For example, one possible barrier is the amount of information that a student needs to hold in mind.

Ideas to reduce this barrier could include:

  • be aware of how much sensory input occurs at once, perhaps offer the option to use headphones
  • show examples and provide answers to check along the way
  • provide templates or graphic organizers
  • allow use of spell checks and other tools 

Use these Inclusive Strategies to help reduce barriers.

Tell me more about this Inclusive Big Idea (I need a refresher)

Brush up on the content of this Inclusive Big Idea. It will help you and your colleagues to understand and teach this content better.

  • The Big Idea: Determine the main topic of a text; Retell a text
  • Tell me more about… Main Topic
    • The main ideas of informational text are the most important points that the author is trying to make about a specific topic. Identifying and categorizing main ideas within informational text is critical to success because it allows readers to prioritize information in a text. It provides the reader with a framework for understanding and recalling the important ideas in the text.
    • Teaching the Main Idea-- Continuum
      • Identify the key words of a sentence
      • Identify key words or topic of a paragraph
      • Identify the topic sentence of a paragraph
      • Recognize the explicitly stated point of a paragraph
      • Infer the main idea of a paragraph
      • Recognize the relationships among ideas in related paragraphs in longer selections
      • Infer relationships among ideas in related paragraphs in longer selections
      • Determine the main idea or central message of an entire text.
  • Tell me more about… Retelling Texts
    • When retelling a story, information should be presented in the same order in which it happened to ensure students understood the cause and effect relationship between events and other story characteristics.


Looking for more suggestions? Target student common misconceptions, build on interdisciplinary links, and implement strategies and supports across multiple lessons or units.

Common Student Misconceptions

  • Retelling: When retelling a story, information should be presented in the same order in which it happened to ensure students understood the cause and effect relationship between events and other story characteristics.
  • Main Idea: Students may have difficulty determining what essential information is. Students often misinterpret details as being the main idea and need to be guided to see the author’s overall point or the ‘big picture’. It is also important to note that the main idea is not simply what the text is about (e.g., informational text covering the discovery of electricity; Benjamin Franklin was key in its first applications, but he is not the main idea). When the main idea is known at the beginning of a text, it alerts the reader to upcoming information and helps them set a purpose for reading. This leads to a greater understanding of the text. Learning how to identify the main idea will help readers remember what they read and improve their comprehension.
  • Supporting Details: Not all information in text is considered supporting details. Authors sometimes provide additional details that are not essential to the understanding of the main idea.
  • Science & Social Studies: Once students can determine the main idea and key details of a text, ask them to apply this skill to their reading about the subject matter.

Everyday Connections

  • During Morning Meeting: Ask students to summarize their weekend activities when sharing with their peers, identifying the main idea and supporting details.

Explore other Inclusive Big Ideas to think about the content you are teaching. How can you connect what you are teaching now to what has been taught before or what will be taught in the future?

Other TIES resources:

Inclusive Big Ideas: Standards-based resources for inclusive classrooms | TIES Center

The Inclusive Big Ideas were adapted from resources created by the NCSC Project , a federal grant from the US Department of Education (PR/Award #: H373X100002), However, the contents do not necessarily represent the policy of the US Department of Education and no assumption of endorsement by the Federal government should be made.

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