Busy, working Moms wear many hats and, if you’re like me, your kids sit around the kitchen table or island doing their homework while you open the mail and prepare dinner nearby. I want to share with you what I consider to be the number one reading skill needed to give your kids a boost in their reading comprehension in all subjects and in all grades. Whether your child is an average, struggling, or proficient reader, this skill is beneficial.. And, best of all, you can help them learn it while your dinner cooks.
In addition to using it when reading, the ability to find the main idea is something we use more often than we think. Have you ever rolled your eyes when someone goes on and on and on when telling you what a certain show or movie was about? That long-winded answer could be greatly reduced if they knew how to quickly find the main idea. That long, long description of a movie could be stated in 10 words. Yup, 10! And that is the challenge I give to my students and that I give to you to teach your kids. If they can give a 10-word sentence to tell what any paragraph, article, textbook section, chapter in a book, or movie is about then they have really “comprehended” what they read or watched.
For over 2 decades as a Reading Specialist, I took classes, read books and articles, and attended seminars on how to teach kids reading skills. I found that there were many, many methods for finding the main idea but they were long and confusing. I came up with a 3-step method to find the main idea. It’s easy, effective, and can be done in the 12 minutes it takes to cook the pasta for dinner. The kids love the challenge and it is fun to watch as they count words on their fingers or on a piece of paper.
Start small by asking your child to read a short paragraph or section alone, aloud, or with you. The ultimate goal will be to read a whole section, page, chapter, or article but this will take time and lots and lots of practice and will depend on your child’s age and ability. Be patient and have fun helping your children succeed. This works best for children in grade 3 and up to try on their own but, for smaller kids, do it together. Your kids will love the challenge and so will you. Show them how to refine their thoughts and how to rearrange the way they put their words together. Be encouraging, helpful, and patient.
1-2-3 Main Idea Strategy
- WHO/WHAT is the text about (1 word)? Who is a person and What is a thing or concept.
- Determine the MOST IMPORTANT THING about #1. (2 or 3 words)
- Finally, Say or Write it in a SENTENCE (10 words or less).
During Step 1, kids often need help in deciding if the selection is about a WHO or a WHAT. If they are reading about a scientist, famous person, or a fictional character or animal, it is a WHO. On the other hand, if the passage is about a volcano eruption, a historic event like a battle in the Revolutionary War, or a concept like Segregation it is a WHAT. For very young children, or those who are having trouble with this, start with the WHO for number one. Then, add WHAT later.
I use 3″x3″ square post-it notes to help the kids keep it short if they are writing their sentence. Don’t let the kids say or write improper sentences. Help them rearrange their words to make it better and to stay within the 10 word limit. The kids will love to see you working on this with them.
So, in the 12 minutes it takes to cook a pot of pasta, you have helped your kids become smart-thinking readers. Reading is thinking and not just reading words by themselves. It is thinking about ideas that are stated and hidden. Get in there and do this activity with them. See how much fun it is to meet the 10-word challenge. Ask them to try it with their homework reading or with any text they want to read. Do it regularly to see how much better they become with practice. Be the Reading Hero your children deserve! And, enjoy the pasta.