Elementary Target Lessons 7 Reading Comprehension Lessons to Teach Students How to Find The Main Idea of a Nonfiction Text

An elementary student works on a CommonLit Target lesson. Other students in her class are visible in the background.

These easy-to-use skills based lessons will engage students with high-interest topics while helping them hone important grade-level reading comprehension skills.

Target Lessons are highly engaging lessons that teach students critical  reading comprehension skills. Each lesson includes scaffolded assessment questions that build student engagement and knowledge as they complete the lesson. Target Lessons can be used to introduce a new skill or as a form of reading intervention.

Teaching students how to find the main idea is a critical reading skill – but also one that is very challenging to teach. Students can confuse the main idea with the topic of the text or zero in on small details instead of the bigger picture, making it difficult for students to fully comprehend what they are reading. It is especially important that students understand how to find the main idea in elementary school, as texts get more complex in middle and high school.

Luckily, CommonLit has you covered with our main idea Target Lessons! These scaffolded lessons will teach students strategies to find the main idea in engaging lessons students will love.

What is Antarctica?” (3rd grade)

Students will read about Antarctica and what scientists study on the continent.  A short video explains that students should find key details, paraphrase the details, and ask themselves: “What is this section mostly about?”

This is a screenshot from the Target Lesson which identifies the target: finding the main idea. Then, the strategy of finding key details is explained.

During reading, students will be asked to stop and answer short answer questions about the main idea of each section. Then, students will be asked to piece together the main idea of the entire article using the key details and section main ideas they’ve identified so far. Students’ understanding of the skill will be tested with a Post-Reading  question that asks: “What is the overall main idea of the article?”

A Space is More than Just a Space”(3rd grade)

This Target Lesson discusses different kinds of spaces and what makes them important. Students will start with a writing warm-up that will help them make text-to-self connections, answering: “Where do you like to spend your time? How does spending time in that space make you feel?”

There are multiple ways to find main ideas in a text. While “What is Antarctica?” teaches students how to identify the main idea by paraphrasing key details, this Target Lesson focuses on finding the main idea by identifying repeated words in a section. The during reading questions ask students to pay attention to repeated words to find main ideas of each section.

In this screenshot, another strategy for finding the main idea is explained. Students are told to look out for words that repeat and use those to help find the main idea.

We All Scream for Ice Cream” (4th grade)

This exciting informational text follows how ice cream went from being a special dessert for the rich to a popular treat that everyone can enjoy. After watching a short video, students are asked to explain what a main idea is and how to identify one in a text in their own words.

During reading, students practice the skill of finding key details and using these details to find the main idea of a section. If students need extra support in reading, they can use our accessibility tools including translation into 30+ languages and text-to-speech. Our scaffolded lessons also provide students with gradual release to assist their learning.

Are Animals Inventors?” (4th grade)

This 4th grade passage teaches students how animals invent tools to make their lives easier. Students will practice finding the main idea using the key details in a text.

During reading, students are asked scaffolded reading questions with the goal of students eventually being able to practice the skill without prompting. After reading the first section of the text, students answer a multiple choice question about the main idea. By the end of the text, they'll be prompted to identify the main idea on their own.

A Bitingly Dangerous Job” (5th grade)

This lesson teaches students about the dangerous but important job of venom milking. Students will get excited about the lesson with a writing warm-up which asks if they would consider doing a dangerous or a safe job. This will spark an engaging and interesting classroom discussion where students argue their point of view. Then, they will engage in a gallery walk to learn what venom milking is.

This is a screenshot of the writing warm-up for "A Bitingly Dangerous Job." Students will be asked to answer questions and engage in a gallery walk around the classroom.

Students will practice identifying the main idea of each section before answering assessment questions about the central idea of the entire article. Assessment Question 3 asks students: “Why is venom milking important? Use evidence from the text to support your answer.”

Soccer Speaks Many Languages” (5th grade)

In this Target Lesson, students read about why soccer is important to Innocent Ndayizeye, a young refugee. Before reading, students watch a video to gain background knowledge on the popularity of soccer worldwide. Then, students are taught how to find the main and central ideas of a text.

The first reading question is multiple choice, and students move to more complicated open response questions as they move through the text. The first few questions explicitly ask students to identify main ideas of a passage. By the final Assessment Question, students apply this standards-based skill less explicitly by answering the question: “The title of this article is ‘Soccer Speaks Many Languages.’ What does that title mean?”

The text "Soccer Speaks Many Languages" is on the left, and the assessment questions are on the right.

Fastest Woman in the World” (5th grade)

This lesson focuses on Wilma Rudolph, the first woman to win three gold medals at the Olympics. Students build background knowledge by watching a short video that introduces the topic of athletes in the Olympics before explaining how to find the main idea of a text.

Students can utilize our digital tools, including highlighting and annotating the text. Tell students to annotate key details or repeated words in each section and use these annotations to answer reading comprehension questions about the main idea of the section or the central idea of the text.

In this screenshot, the text "Not About to Lose" is on the left. Key details are highlighted in yellow using CommonLit's digital annotation tool. On the right, students are prompted to answer the question "What is the main idea of this section?" They can use their highlights to answer the question.

Next Steps

Looking for more engaging lessons to build knowledge and skills? Explore our full library of Target Lessons here!

Want to learn more about utilizing CommonLit’s free digital literacy program in your classroom? Register for one of our upcoming webinars.

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