Main Idea of Expository Text {Reading and Writing}

Getting to the main idea of expository text is so difficult for the students (heck, sometimes it is hard for teachers ;) )  We have been working on it for a better part of the year, mostly in a spiral way, so here we are again.  I really wanted the kids to internalize it this time, so we started with a very specific anchor chart.

Then, I gave the students a nonfiction article (about the clothing worn by the middle class in the colonial era) and we looked at the text features of the article first.

How did they help us to understand what the article was about?

We wrote down our thoughts on what the main idea would be, based solely on the title, headings, and pictures.

Then, we read paragraph by paragraph, annotating the main idea as we went.  We asked ourselves:

What is this mostly about?
What words are repeated?
What details support one main point?

Next, I asked the students to read one section of the article and think about the main idea of the entire section (instead of paragraph by paragraph).  To help them along, the students used this graphic organizer I gave them.

They found:

Key details
Information from the text features
Repeated words

I then asked them to write the main idea of the section in one sentence.

Finding details from the text itself, actual QUOTES, to support that main idea sentence.

This organizer can be used with ANY expository text.  Grab it here.

Finally, they took all of that information, and wrote a summarizing article with the main idea as the topic sentence and the brainstormed ideas and quotes for supporting evidence.
Here is a final draft of the paragraph that one student wrote.
Another final draft.  Just so happened they both choose to write about women's clothing.

All in all, a nice way to get them to understand main idea in both expository reading and writing.  What is something you have done to get the kids to understand this topic?


  1. I love that you do a lot of close readings with copies of articles that students can actually annotate. Where do you find these articles?

  2. Love this lesson! Can I ask where the text came from? I would like to use the text passage. :)


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