Try This Reading Workshop Minilesson on Main Idea!

Rebecca Leon

Happy back to school, teachers! We know that the beginning of the year can be a whirlwind of learning names, settling in, and getting into a classroom rhythm. In all that hubbub, we wanted to do some of the work for you. I have designed a Reading Workshop model minilesson to go along with our September nonfiction feature in Storyworks: "Our World Turned to Water." It's the riveting, inspiring tale of the August 2016 Louisiana flood. Of course, when we decided to run this story we had no idea that by the time it came out, an even more catastrophic storm in Hurricane Harvey would devastate Texas—and parts of Louisiana. We hope you can use this article to build empathy—and provide hope—for the victims of these unprecedented disasters.

Have your students grab their brand new issue of Storyworks, their Post-It notes, and pencil, and you're ready to go. This lesson is designed to be done after you have already read the article once as a class.

Teaching Point: How to look for details to help you find the main idea in a nonfiction text.

  1. First, refresh your students' memories of the article. Remind them that you'll be working on how to find the main idea of a story using details from the story. These small details often fit together to create an important idea, for a whole story or a chunk of text. Tell your students that you'll be showing them how to look for these details, and how that will help them find the main idea.
  2. Return to the beginning of the article and start reading. Do a think-aloud as you read. Pause to talk about the details that jump out at you and underline them for the class. Talk about how the details make you feel. Read up until "Thousands of people had lost everything they owned."
  3. Here's an example of a think-aloud: "Much of the school was damaged, and many people lost their homes." I'm picturing how terrible this must have been for people. [Continue reading] ". . . under 10 feet of water." Wow, that would be way over my head. That would reach my living room ceiling. I'm going to underline that. [Continue reading] ". . . lost everything they owned." This flood devastated many people. It reminds me of what I've been seeing on TV about Texas and Louisiana and how Hurricane Harvey has affected people there.
  4. Talk about the details you underlined and how you can put them together to come up with a main idea. The main idea here is that a terrible flood turned many people's lived upside down. The flood was much worse than an ordinary one. 
  5. Keep reading, starting with "But that was only one part of the story..." Point out that this sentence implies that there's going to be another important idea. Read the rest of page 4 aloud. Have students underline or mark with a Post-It note any details that popped out at them.
  6. Then have students turn and talk with their neighbors about what they underlined. Once they've had a minute to talk, you can bring the class back together and talk about what you heard the students discussing. At this point you can describe the second main idea: In this terrible disaster, people acted kindly and helped each other.
  7. Wrap up the lesson: Recap with your students why it's important to find details that stick out and put them together to create main ideas. Then have students return to their reading spots and read the next part of the article, through the end of "A Rainy Morning." Have them underline details that pop out and then turn and talk with a partner about how they fit together to make main ideas. 

 Of course, you should tailor this lesson to your own needs and to the specific teaching point you want to make. Here are some more ideas for practicing a strategy presented in your mini lesson:

  • Have students keep reading the same article to practice.
  • Many of the activity sheets that come with this article could function not solely as individual student worksheets, but as thinking tools, graphic organizers, or anchor charts when projected on the Smartboard—perfect for effective modeling during a mini lesson. You can choose one and project and model a graphic organizer with whole group too.
  • You could have students choose another Storyworks article to practice the strategy. You might guide them to the other nonfiction selections, such as the paired texts, Word Power, or debate.
  • You could have students practice the strategy with their independent reading books.
  • Or, conversely, you could use a favorite minilesson you already have to teach a strategy, then have students practice it using an article they choose from Storyworks. You can differentiate by distributing the lower-Lexile version of one of our articles to the students who would benefit from it.

Remeber, Storyworks can be flexibly used however it works best for you. One question in the Teacher's Guide could become an idea for a mini lesson. Our goal is simple: to provide you with the tools you need to do the invaluable work you do every day, and to make it as easy and joyful as we can. Please feel free to share your Reading Workshop minilesson ideas with us too! Email us at

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