Teaching “Main Idea” Through Picture Books

Renee Kirchner
by Renee Kirchner
Teaching Tips Contributing Editor

Learning how to identify the main idea and supporting details is an important reading skill that children must develop. It helps them to create meaning as they read. Teachers can use a variety of strategies to explain main idea. Basically, the main idea is the main reason the story was written. For example, the main reason for going to an amusement park is to ride the rides and have fun. A child might eat some yummy food like cotton candy or hot dogs at the amusement park, but that wasn’t the main reason for going.

Every story has a main idea. Sometimes the main idea can be found in the first sentence of the story and sometimes it is found in the middle of a story. Tell children to think of the 5 W’s, who, what, when, where, and why to help them look for the main idea. All stories have supporting details that are related to the main idea. There could be just a few supporting details or many.

There are many fine examples of picture books that you can use to main idea. Read some of the stories listed below and ask children to try to tell you the main idea. It might be helpful for children to have a visual. Draw a daisy on the board and put the main idea of a story into the center of the flower and write the supporting details on the petals. Ask them to do the same when choosing the main idea from other stories.

Picture books to teach main idea:

Thanksgiving is here
Thanksgiving is Here! By Diane Goode
August 2003, HarperCollins Publishers

Main idea: The main idea in this story is that a grandmother and a grandfather are hosting a warm family gathering.

Supporting Details:
1) A stray dog shows up to the party (but tell children that the story is not about a dog). 2) One of the guests brings a gift to the host and hostess of the Thanksgiving dinner.

The Great Kapok Tree
The Great Kapok Tree by Lynne Cherry
March, 1990Harcourt Children’s Books

Main Idea: The Kapok Tree is important to many rain forest animals because it is their home.

Supporting Details:
A man falls asleep while trying to chop down the tree.
A butterfly whispers in his ear.
The rain forest has three layers: a canopy, an understory, and a forest floor.

Chrysanthemum
Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes
September 1996, HarperCollins Publishers

Main Idea: The little mouse, Chrysanthemum, loves her name.

Supporting Details:
The students in class all have short names
The students tease Chrysanthemum about her name
The teacher is named after a flower too.

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