Determine the main topic of a text; Summarize a text (Inclusive Big Idea #2)
What are students learning?
Reading Informational Text
Grade 8: English Language Arts
Inclusive Big Idea #2: Determine the main topic of a text; Summarize a text
Standard: Determine a central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text, including its relationship to supporting ideas; provide an objective summary of the text. RI.8.2
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?
- Word Splash: Read, listen, or view the text and decide on key words, phrases, and concepts that will give students ideas of what the text is about or words that might need further clarification. Record, type, write, or copy for individual students or small groups. Once distributed, allow students a few minutes to read through the text and discuss listed words and phrases with others. Allow students to make predictions about the central idea of the text in their group. Bring students back together and ask them for their predictions, encouraging all students to contribute. Students can write or present their information to the class or in small groups.
- 1 Sentence Paragraph (1SP): Select a section of the text that includes several paragraphs. Display the text on the board or screen or share copies with the class in a shared online document, to allow the class to work as a group. Read the first paragraph with the class. Cover the paragraph. Ask students to create and share 1 sentence that reflects their understanding of the paragraph. Share several sentences, looking for similarities and differences. Read the next paragraph and continue the process.
- Model to Understand: Model the following summarizing steps:
- Go through the passage and delete trivial or unnecessary material.
- Delete redundant or repeated material.
- Model how to substitute terms for lists (e.g., substitute “flowers” for daisies, tulips, and roses).
- Model how to create a one-sentence summary based on steps 1-3.
- Text Annotations: Teach students to make notes in the margins (e.g., questions for discussion or future thinking; notes to identify important information; comments about content). Notes can be on sticky notes if writing in the book is not appropriate.
- Sketch-to-Stretch: Sketch-to-Stretch is a way for students to capture the central idea through drawing. After the students have completed reading/listening to an informational text, they can draw or choose a visual representation of the central idea the author is trying to convey. They can use examples and details from the text to inform their drawings.
- Information Coding: Provide the students with a copy of the text for students to mark. Students should then create a coding system to help them mark and understand the text. The coding system might look something like this:
- CI: I think this is the central idea
- ***: This part supports the central idea.
- Discuss to Understand: As students read particular sections of text--or after reading a text-- ask a series of questions to help students determine the central idea. See this TIP Sheet for more information on Whole Group Discussions. Help facilitate this by asking questions such as:
- What is this informational text really about?
- What do you think the author wants you to learn from this book?
- How does the author support this central idea in each chapter/section?
- Is there more than one central idea in this text? If so, what are they?
- Think Aloud: To model determining a central idea, read aloud an informational text. Then, at the end of the text, demonstrate what you believe the central idea to be. As you continue reading, highlight sections in the text that support the central idea over time. See this TIP Sheet for more information on how to model using a Think Aloud.
- GIST: GIST (Generating Interactions between Schemata and Text) is a strategy that asks readers to condense or summarize a text or other media by generating a brief summary in their own words. Students can use sentence starters or follow model answers to provide the GIST by identifying some of the main ideas or key details from a text. In longer texts, encourage students to stop every few pages and tell or document the GIST of what was read so far.
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; Summarize 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… Summarizing Texts
- When summarizing, readers reduce larger selections of text to their bare essentials: the gist, the key ideas, the main points that are worth noting and remembering. Summarizing is an important skill for readers of all levels and abilities and goes beyond retelling to demonstrate strong understanding of the text. Summarizing requires readers to comprehend, analyze, and synthesize ideas.
- Good readers…
- reduce the extraneous verbiage and examples
- focus on the most relevant facts
- find key words/phrases that capture the main idea of what was read
- find the main ideas and the essential details that support the main idea
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
- 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.
- Summarizing: Teachers sometimes mistakenly believe that students have the ability to determine what is essential within a text. Explicit teaching is often required for students to learn this skill.
- Building Background Knowledge: Many teachers assume students already know about a topic based on their age or what they should have learned in a previous grade or class. When background knowledge is not built or activated, students will lack the schema to understand new material and may not effectively learn and understand the topic or concept.
- Supporting Details: Not all information in the text is considered a supporting detail. Authors sometimes provide additional details that are not essential to the understanding of the main idea.
Links Across Content Areas
- 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 across content areas.
- On the TV: Ask students to summarize the main idea of a newscast, informational podcast, or sportscast
Show me other related Inclusive Big Ideas
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?
Seventh Grade: Determine the main topic of a text; Summarize a text (RI 2)
Eighth Grade: Determine the central message or theme; Summarize a text (RL 2)
Other TIES resources:
- Ready to build a more inclusive lesson? Check out the 5-15-45 Tool!
- Looking for engaging distance learning ideas?
- Find out more about how TIES is promoting systems change!
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.