The Main Idea

Scripture: Matthew 5, Luke 6

Learning Objectives:

  • Students will review the story of the Sermon on the Mount.
  • Students will learn to identify the main idea of a passage and to recognize supporting details.
  • Students will learn that although God forgives us of our sins, He expects a higher standard of behavior from us than the world does.
  • Students will participate in an activity allowing them to practice identifying main and supporting ideas in a passage.

Guiding Question: How can we determine he main idea of a passage? How do we tell the difference between the main idea and supporting details?

Materials: pictures or diagrams of something that can be divided into components parts; scissors and paper

  1. Draw, download or copy two each of several simple pictures or diagrams that have easily recognizable component parts. Examples: a house with door, roof, foundation, wall, window; an ice cream sundae with bowl, ice cream, whipped cream, chocolate sauce and cherry; a snowman with snow balls, hat, branches, carrot, and coal.
  2. Cut one of each picture into its component parts.
  3. Write out on strips of paper 3-4 categories, such as “Desert Animals,” “Kinds of Trees,” or Dog Breeds,” them list 5-7 items for each category and cut each out separately. Be sure they are common items that the students would recognize.)
  4. Advanced Literacy: Write/print out a set of sentences that includes one main idea and several supporting details (most food paragraphs will do.) Cut them apart from each other.

Procedure: Review the story of the Sermon on the Mount. For each section have the students list as many of the points that Jesus made as they can. (ex: for the Beautitudes – people whose hearts are pure will see God, people who make peace will be called sons of God; for the Salt/Light – you are salt, salt is only good if it is salty, you are light, light is only good if it shines, people will praise God when they see your good works.) Ask the students, “what is the main point of each passage? Is there a main idea for the whole sermon? How do we find the main idea?

  1. Put a “whole” picture (house, sundae, etc) at the top of your display area (desk, board, etc), and line the parts up below it. The idea is for the student to see that the “ main idea” includes all of the supporting details. A each supporting detail is a part of the main idea.
  2. Have the students identify the “whole” object, and then identify the “part” objects. Have them explain why each “part” belongs with the “whole.” (The whole is made up of the parts).
  3. Switch one of the parts with its whole. Does the arrangement make sense now? (Is a house part of a roof? Is a snow man a part of a hat?) Have the students explain why it doesn’t make sense. Ten switch it back.
  4. Add in a part from another set – e.g., put a hat under the house. Does this arrangement work? (Students may say yes, because a hat can be in the house. Remind them that we are looking for parts of a house, not things in a house.)
  5. Move on to words instead of pictures. Present categories, such as “desert animals,” “kinds of trees,” or “dog breeds.” Have the students sort the items into each category.
  6. Now use entire sentences instead of words – cut them into sentences strips and have the students find the one which works best as the main idea:
    • Tortoises and lizards, spiders and scorpions are desert inhabitants.
    • Many animals make their home in the desert. (This is the correct answer.)
    • The javelin, or peccary, enjoys the cactus fruit in late summer.
    • Jack rabbits hide among the prickly pear.
    • Snakes of many kinds roam the desert floor and sun themselves on rocks.
    • Coyotes roam the desert in search of prey.
  7. If your student has trouble sorting the sentences, have her underline 3-4 key words from each sentence. This will help her focus on what each sentence is about. In this way, she can see that all the other more specific sentences fall into. Some students will need a lot of practice with this skill.
  8. Back to the bible passages: To help a student come up with the main idea on his own, or choose between a few given possibilities, have him write facts from the passage on sticky notes or index cards. Write possible “main idea” choices on a white board or paper. See which main idea choice can have all facts fit underneath it. Example: (In the Beautitudes) Good things will happen to those who please God, een if they are suffering now.)

Advanced Literacy: Which Idea Doesn’t Belong? – If the student can easily distinguish between main idea and supporting details, try giving him a specific main idea along with several supporting details, with an added red herring – an off-topic detail for him to identify and discard. For example, in the list above, an off-topic detail would be, “dolphins prefer the warm waters of the Pacific Ocean.” When he can find one, try giving him a set with more than one discardable detail.

Additional Questions:

  • How can you organize your own writing using main and supporting ideas?

Supplemental Activity: Writing a cohesive paragraph requires the same understanding of main idea and supporting details. The only difference is that the student has to decide what details to include in order to support his main idea. This will help him when he looks at his own writing. At that point, writing his thoughts on a graphic organizer might help him develop his paragraph(s).