Teaching Main Idea & Details

by | Literacy Activities

“What does the author want me to know?”

Finding the main idea is the key in understanding what you read. Yes, it’s just an answer to a simple question, “What does the author want me to know?” However, understanding the main idea and then supporting that with details from the text is a complex task. It involves children determining importance and synthesizing the information they are reading!

In order to help my fourth graders tackle this strategy and I consulted my favorite teaching resource, The Reading Strategies Book, by Jennifer Seravallo. I love this text for SO many reasons as a parent and educator. It’s very easy to use because it includes visual aids for each strategy, a teaching tip, lesson language on what to say when teaching the strategy and also includes prompts to help kids apply the strategy. I highly recommend this resources for all the parents that are eLearning and homeschooling!

One of my favorite strategies from the book is the Boxes and Bullets strategy. I chose to use this strategy because the graphic organizer makes it easy for students to organize and visualize the information. For this tutoring session, we spent the first half doing a Guided Reading Lesson with the text from Newsela where I taught a strategy to help with decoding (aka reading words, especially tricky words) and working through some new vocabulary words. After the kids read the text, we moved on to our comprehension strategy, Boxes and Bullets. I think this strategy works best for 2nd grade and up!

Main Idea & Details Strategy

  • I introduced the anchor chart (seen below) where I used a yellow sticky note as the main idea “box” and orange sticky notes as the “bullets” for the supporting details. *I keep the anchor charts/visual aids in a sketch book so that we can refer back to them anytime we need to! Plus, chart paper doesn’t really go with my dining room decor. 🙂


  • Next, we worked through the text using highlighters to coordinate with the main idea box and bullet. Once we determined the main idea, we highlighted it yellow and added it to our graphic organizer.


  • Finally, we used the orange highlighter to identify the supporting details. This is the part that is tricky! Students have to understand that the details support the main idea, not just a random fact in the text. This takes LOTS of practice to be able to understand this complex task.


main idea and details


main idea strategy



boxes and bullets


Newsela is a great, FREE resource to grab nonfiction texts for your children. You can tailor each article to meet their individual reading level (based on Lexile). If you are unsure of your child’s reading level or you know their “letter level” you can use this reading correlation chart to find one that meets their needs!


I hope this strategy helps your students and children understand main idea and details! I would love to hear how this strategy worked for you!

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