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Your Reading Comprehension Toolkit: Determining Importance

We’ve all had a whole group discussion about a book go a little…off course.

Imaginations wander, amusing side stories are shared, and before you know it, your students have masterfully sidetracked your entire lesson. Instead of struggling to refocus them, help your students notice that they’ve wandered by turning their tangent into a teachable moment. Explain that having conversations about books is all about staying focused on the most important parts.

So…how do you help students to know what the most important information is?

Well, it depends on what you’re reading. For fiction, it’s important to pay attention to the main characters, the settings, the characters’ relationships, the problems or conflicts in the story, and how the characters try to solve those problems.

On the other hand, for nonfiction (books about real people, places, things, or events), it’s important to determine the topic of the text, the main ideas about the topic, and the most important details. It’s also important to focus in key vocabulary words.

You can help students pinpoint important information in any text. But to save you time,the BookPagez team has already made it super easy to show your students how to determine importance while reading. Check out the paired resources for the following books:

Okay, so how exactly can you teach students to recognize what’s important? Fortunately we’ve got some ideas that you can steal and use in your classroom!

Here Are 3 Ideas to Help Students Determine Importance with Any Book:

Do a Big and Tiny Sort

After reading, draw two circles on the board or a piece of chart paper. Label the first circle “Big Ideas” and the second circle “Tiny Ideas”. Then invite your students to brain dump. Ask them to write something that they remember about the text on a sticky note. Go around the room, asking each student to read their sticky note. As a class determine whether or not the information is a big idea or a tiny one. Post the sticky notes in the correct circle.

Beginning readers may struggle with this concept. If your students seem to think that everything is a big idea, try to prove the importance of the information with the following line of questioning:

  • Is this fact part of the problem, solution, or plot?
  • Is this fact part of the main idea?
  • Is this fact part of what I need to remember?

When students take the time to question whether or not facts and ideas are actually an important part of the text, they will begin to apply critical thinking skills to their reading.

Give Students the “Up or Down” Challenge

This activity works really well with nonfiction. Here’s what you do:

  • Draw a Topic, Main Idea,and Detail Tree on the board
  • Write information from the text on sticky notes.
  • Read the the sticky note and place it somewhere on the chart
  • Ask students if the sticky note should move up, down, or stay where it is
  • Move the sticky note according to student direction
  • Continue adding sticky notes and moving them up or down until all of the information is organized correctly

You should end up with a flow chart showing the topic at the top, the main ideas in the middle, and the details at the bottom.

Give Students a Metaphor for the Different Levels of Information

This activity works best for visual learners. Help students to understand the different levels of information in a text by giving them a visual reference tool.

For example, you might compare topic, main ideas, and details to the sky: The sky is the topic, the clouds are the main ideas, and the raindrops are the details. A plate of cookies could serve as another metaphor. Explain that the plate is the topic, the cookies are the main ideas, and the chocolate chips are the details.

Want More Ideas Like These?

This post is part of a 10-part series. In each post, we share ideas for making comprehension strategy practice more engaging.

Click here to see tips and activity ideas for the other reading comprehension strategies.

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