Tackling Main Idea and Details: Boxes and Bullets

Ok- I couldn't wait. I broke a blogging rule (posting more than once in one day). I just wanted to share how I teach main idea and detail. Not sure what you all use to teach main idea and details, but we use Teachers College's Reader's Workshop model. They put a heavy focus on the visual called, "Boxes and Bullets" to show main ideas and details. We discussed other ways to show main idea with visuals as well, but we will mainly use boxes and bullets for common assessments.

However, to have them understand the importance of providing multiple examples of details to support the main idea, I used the table analogy. These are screen shots from our SmartBoard slides- so they may not be the best quality- and don't judge my hand writing. I hate writing on the SmartBoard, and I mainly do it just to write student responses so it isn't always the neatest (or even easy to read haha, but they get the jist)

We talked about how if a table had only 1 leg, it couldn't support the table top. 2 legs made it a bit more stable, but it was still wobbly, 3-4 legs made it pretty strong and able to support the table top and anything on it. I had a lot of, "Ahhhhh coooool!" responses from my students after we talked through this idea.

I then show them other visuals people may use:

Then we began identifying the main idea of a passage with 3 or more details. Our first example was actually really hard (we didn't necessarily think it through well enough to realize they had to really synthesis- I don't have that passage here, but we used the feedback from that exit slip to include a focus on the difference between a topic, and a main idea.) We started off small, with only one paragraph. 

{Side note} We (my team and I) created these examples and exit slips by using pages from our A-Z reading books and Readworks.org and writing in our boxes and bullets... nothing fancy!}

 I modeled how to identify the topic (what is this about) and then the main idea (what is this trying to teach me about the topic). They then practiced with me. It went over SO WELL! They really got it! This example even was two paragraphs, but they found out pretty quickly that the two paragraphs were obviously linked over a common idea (how slime helps slugs and snails)

They then had to do it on their own with a longer paragraph.

We then practiced more with multiple paragraphs. This of course was a little more difficult, but they were catching on.
They again, would practice on their own. I would look at each of these independent exit slips and sort them as they came in- essentially like a continuum. I found out quickly the students who consistently were nailing it, those who consistently weren't getting it, and those who were slowly growing over the practice. I loved having a daily piece of information on their skills to compare over the course of the week.

Lastly, we focused on being able to tell the main idea on an article with multiple paragraphs. My students have numbers, so they were each assigned to a paragraph. They had to read it with the other people in their group and come up with a heading for their paragraph. We then looked at all the headings to see what the whole article was about. We focused on key words that popped out to us (animals helping people) and viola, we learned the main idea of the article! Under the boxes were the actual headings and title so we could check how close we were to it!

Then, they got to practice this exit slip. Again, I had some who really nailed it, many who were close, and a few that had clear confusions. I could pull strategy groups based on this final assessment. Some strategy groups I pulled included:

*Matching headings to Title
*Using accurate language in headings
*Using accurate language in title
*Identifying key words across paragraphs that repeat
*Taking notes to keep ideas organized 

Overall, I felt really good with how we approached main idea and details this time around. I look forward to applying these skills in our other non-fiction units!!



  1. Hey Kelli! I found your blog from the Fifth in the Middle linky. I am a MN blogger too. I teach 2nd grade in Frazee (near Detroit Lakes) and I am your newest blog follower! I look forward to reading more posts on your blog and possibly networking with you in the future! If you have a chance, I would love for you to stop by my blog and check it out! I have a huge giveaway going on right now that I think your students would benefit from!!!
    Mrs. Olson’s Lucky Little Learners

  2. Hi Angie! Nice to meet a fellow Mrs. Olson :) I am so glad I linked up with Fifth in the Middle's State linky to help find other MN bloggers!! I'm your newest follower as well and entered your giveaway! That resource could be a great addition to our bully prevention curriculum. Thanks for commenting and following- I look forward to reading your posts and networking as well!

  3. Hi, is there a way to access this lesson or purchase from teacherspayteachers? This is exactly what I've been looking for to help with paragraph titles and headings. Thanks!

    1. Hello! Thanks for your interest! I do not have this lesson for access as of now. Most of the passages I used was from a website with a paid subscription, so I couldn't give those out. I may be creating some of my own in the near future however, which they will then be on my TpT store. However, feel free to take screen shots of the first two photos to use or use them to create your own slides in Powerpoint or Smart Notebook. I would suggest going to the free website Read Works and finding some articles you could use. Simply cut and tape paper over headings before you make copies. The passages are leveled as well so you can tailor it to your classroom needs. Hope this is helpful enough for now! :) I'd be more than willing to give you more info if needed.


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