Before we tackle Homer's The Odyssey, my students and I are creating background knowledge about Ancient Greece. As we've embarked upon our own journey into our literature books with informative texts (far above most of their reading levels), we've been working together to increase our understanding of such texts. These texts have challenging words, lengthy sentences, and semi-vague ideas that, independently, many of my students would struggle with on their own. And, the ideas within these informative texts are essential in providing context for The Odyssey.
Since we've used The Idea-Details strategy as a prewriting and revising tool, modeling how we can also use it as a reading tool for informative texts seemed appropriate. This, combined with the background knowledge my students have about titles and subtitles, seemed like a natural way to help us comprehend this difficult reading task (see One BIG Change: From Drafting to Revising for a Title).
Locating a Writer's Main Idea
With the first section of this text, I modeled how The Idea-Details allows us to identify the writer's Main Idea and Details in a paragraph. First, I read the paragraph aloud with Phrasing. Then, in a Think-Aloud, I used the following Sentence Starter for the Idea side:
The one most important thing the writer wants me to know in this paragraph is...
We've spent a lot of time talking about how writers often include their Main Idea in either the first or last sentence of a paragraph, so I went back to the text and re-read each of these sentences again. This allowed me to determine which one seemed most important. Under the Idea side, I wrote it in.
Keeping this Main Idea in mind, I re-read the paragraph again. This time searching for Details to support this Main Idea. As I found these Details, I listed them under the Details side. Again, as writers, my students and I have spent a lot of time talking about how the middle sentences in a paragraph are often the Details (answers to readers questions) that support a Main Idea.
Once I'd modeled this for them, I had students copy the next subtitle of the informative text
at the top of a new page in their reading journals. Then, I asked them to set up an Idea-Details like the one I modeled for them. A volunteer read this next paragraph and everyone had the reading task of searching for the Main Idea.
After the reader finished, we spent some time reviewing where to look for the writer's M.I., which involved re-reading (and some gentle persuasion). Once we found it, we wrote it down and then began looking for the Details that followed this idea, which involved more re-reading (and more gentle persuasion).
With each paragraph, we practiced together following the same steps I'd modelled earlier. In a few sub-sections of the text, we combined 3-4 paragraphs together because it seemed logical to do so. By the time we'd finished reading 4 pages of informative text, we had gone through this process 7-10 times.
For the last paragraph, I asked students to practice in small groups. They had to choose whether or not to read the text aloud as a group or individually. Then, they had to create one last Idea-Details and work through the same steps as before. Tomorrow, I'll ask them to practice independently to show me they understand the steps and are able to locate a Main Idea and Details on their own.
What If They Stumble?
They will. For many students, informative texts are extremely challenging to read. Most likely, many students simply haven't had enough experience with such texts, which causes problems for them. This is why teachers need to have strategies like Idea-Details nearby. Such strategies allow teachers to model how they can be used as both writing and reading tools--an essential component of solid English instruction. And essential in helping our students develop the reading skills informative texts demand.
Readers of all levels and abilities can use the Idea-Details to help them better follow and understand a writer's ideas. This year, I believe I've had more success with the I-D strategy because I've given my students numerous opportunities to practice using it for a variety of purposes (prewriting, revising, and building reading skills).
Many of them have found it helpful in building our knowledge about Ancient Greece. A few have even realized that with the right tools in their repertoire, they can tackle those challenging informative texts that dominate content area textbooks rather than be intimidated by them.
As the year progresses, we'll continue to use the Idea-Details strategy for a variety of purposes and reasons. As we read informative texts about the topics we choose to research next semester, it will be my "go-to" strategy for reading those texts and making sense of them. And we'll use it again as we begin drafting and revising our research papers. This versatility makes the I-D one strategy that, as readers and writers, my students and I continue to have great success with.
For more on the Idea-Details strategy, see The Writing Teacher's Strategy Guide: Practical Lessons for All Grade Levels.
Portions of this article are © Copyright 1995-2012 by Teaching That Makes Sense, Inc., and are used by permission. For more information, and free teaching materials, visit www.ttms.org or contact Margot Lester at firstname.lastname@example.org.