Which Should I Work On First: Main Idea or Summarizing?

When working on reading skills and strategies with our speech kiddos, it’s sometimes hard to decide what to teach first! We know that our students need all these skills to be successful, but what’s the best order in which to teach them? Today, we are going to touch on which should come first – main idea or summarizing? 

Ideas for Teaching Main Idea

Main Idea can also be known by a term that uses the same initials- Most Important! The main idea is the most important point made in a passage. This can be a tricky skill to teach! Sometimes, students confuse the first sentence in a passage with the main idea. To avoid this, and to help kids identify the main idea, here are some simple ways to teach it! 

  • Use sentence stems! Sentence stems create a base for your students’ main idea statements. Some examples of sentence stems include: 
    • The story is about (character) who (details) and then (detail). This is for a fiction passage. 
    • The main idea is about how/who (detail). This is for a nonfiction passage. 

  • Write-A-Title. Cover up the title of the passage, and then have the student read it, or listen to you reading it aloud. Ask the student what they think the title of the passage should be. Then, look at the original title, and have the student decide which title shows the main idea better. 
  • On the flip side, students can also look at the title of a passage and make a prediction about what they think the main idea will be. 
  • Finding connections between unlike things. Students can look at a set of objects, pictures, or words and decide what the comment thread between all of these things is. Then, they can make a statement about what these things have in common. For example, if a student is looking at pictures of people fishing, boating, and swimming, they made write a statement that different bodies of water provide people with opportunities for fun. 

Ideas for Teaching Summarizing

When kids are presented with a longer passage, it can be difficult for them to summarize it. It can also be difficult for them to decide what facts are important and which ones aren’t. Fortunately, there are some great ways to help kids learn how to summarize!

  • Statement sorting. Write sentences from the passage on sentence strips, or print the passage and cut out different sentences. Have students sort the sentences into “Relevant” and “Irrelevant” columns. Then, they can use the information from the “Relevant” column to write their summary. 
  • Use the Somebody – Wanted – But – So – Then Strategy, or SWBST. When writing a summary for a fiction passage, students can identify the “somebody”, what they wanted to do, what happened that was a problem, what they did instead, and what happened in the end. This strategy can be used to write a summary paragraph. 
  • Have students begin by summarizing a familiar story. Most students already know classic stories like The Three Little Pigs. Students can tell you about this story from memory and will most likely be able to summarize it well. You or the student can write out this summary and use it as an example when writing other summaries. 

Which Comes First and Why? 

So now that you know some tips and tricks about teaching main idea and summarizing, which one should you teach first? The answer is – main idea! Finding the main idea is an important part of summarizing a passage. Once they have found the main idea, students should know that all of the details that they use in their summaries need to point to the main idea. This will give students direction when they are writing their summaries. 

If you need more ideas on teaching reading skills and strategies (and what order to teach them!) to your speech students, then you’re in luck! Join my monthly membership, SLP Elevate, today to get monthly themed materials and community support to take the bulk of lesson prep off your plate!