How To Teach Main Idea and Reading Comprehension

It’s one thing to be able to read words on a page, but it’s something else entirely to understand that those words have meaning and create a bigger picture. Many students come to the classroom proud that they can read any word put in front of them, and they should be. More importantly, though, they need to be able to comprehend what they are reading, apply it to real-world situations, and retell it in their own words. This is where reading comprehension comes into play.

Keep reading to see how you can use Main Idea while teaching to reinforce reading comprehension and strong reading skills.

If you’re trying to find an all-inclusive unit that covers everything your kids need to know about main idea and key details, you have come to the right place. I developed a 7-day Main Idea Unit to narrow your focus when it comes to teaching reading comprehension skills. Throughout this 7-day series of lessons, students will complete exit slips, formative assessments, and summative assessments so you can gauge their knowledge.

The 7 days of lessons include:

  1. Details Make Things Interesting: What is a detail? Part I
  2. Details Make Stories Interesting: What is a detail? Part II
  3. Pay Attention to the Details: Pay attention to details is important!
  4. Lookin’ Sharp: Details help the reader visualize.
  5. Bag It Up {group work}: What is a main idea?
  6. Bag It Up {individual work}: Finding the main idea.
  7. Details are Key: Identifying details and the main idea.

Anchor Charts to Help with Main Idea

One of the first things you will do when introducing main idea and key details in your lessons, is show your students anchor charts they can refer to moving forward. I recommend going over these anchor charts daily to reinforce their understanding of the concept.

It’s important to use tools like these to show students how to work on their reading comprehension skills. Understanding a text they are reading in its entirety is crucial to their growing understanding of main idea and details.

Teaching the Importance of Paying Attention to Details

As an introductory lesson, students will be asked to notice what is on a tray. They will write their observations and record important details about what they see. When you go to ask them questions later, they will find that you are asking specific questions about the objects.

Your questions won’t simply be, “Was there a bus on the tray?” The questions will be more specific like, “What flavor was the chapstick?” or “What number was the die on?” Students always like this activity because it makes them really think and pay attention to what they are looking at. Then, you can tie it into your lessons on main idea and KEY details!

Practicing Reading Comprehension with Text

The best way to practice reading comprehension skills is to read stories the students will enjoy and ask questions before, during, and after the story. This activity will allow students to answer questions and record the main idea and key details as they listen to the story. They will also complete an exit ticket to show they retained what they heard.

With anything, practice makes perfect. So read tons of stories and ask tons of questions to make sure the kids are paying attention!

The Details are in the Descriptors

Another great way to get students to pay attention to key details and work on their reading comprehension skills is to have them describe things using adjectives. In this activity, students will observe objects and record adjectives. These adjectives will help the kids remember what they were looking at and recall things later.

This same mentality can be applied while reading. Stop during the story to recall adjectives about the characters, setting, or events happening. Doing this will allow students to solidify what they are reading and recall important parts later. This will in turn improve their reading comprehension skills.

Create Pictures to Tell a Story

Letting kids use their imagination to draw what they visualize in a story is a wonderful way to help them with their reading comprehension skills. When students have something to picture in their minds while they read, they retain more information.

Give them this silly passage about a creature under the bed and let them draw their own depiction of it. They will use the key details in the passage to create their monster. I let the kids use a highlighter to highlight important words in the passage. They use those words to draw the monster. If they pay attention to the words, all of their monsters should look fairly similar!

Main Idea and Key Detail Rings

A super fun way to get students to recall the main idea and key details from a text, is to provide them with their own set of keys. No, not for driving a car, but for driving their reading comprehension adventure.

As they read their chosen text, they will write the main idea and 3 key details on the printed key ring. Pring more key details if you would like, but 3 is a good starting place. They may decorate the keys and if you have time, laminate them to take home. It’s a fun way to get kids thinking while they read!

Use this Complete Main Idea and Key Details Unit to help students with their reading comprehension skills. Like I said, it’s great when they can read the words, but it’s more important that they are able to take the information read and recall it to friends or apply it to the real world. Using these fun activities is a sure-fire way to help them achieve this.

Find some amazing read-alouds with captivating stories and amazing details from my FREE Reading Activities post. There are great story ideas as well as fun activities to do with them.


Abby is a former kindergarten and first grade teacher who channels her passion for education into creating engaging activities and resources for the kindergarten and first grade classroom. When not dreaming up or working on her next project, you’ll find her enjoying her family – most likely in her minivan on the way to a soccer field.


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Hi, I'm Abby

Hi, I’m Abby! Thanks for stopping by. I love supporting kindergarten and first grade teachers with engaging, skill-based activities that are easy to use in their classrooms. Let me help you be the best teacher you can be!
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