How to Teach Main Ideas in Upper Grades

If you are looking for tips on teaching main idea in upper grades, you’re in the right place! This blog post is for all of you 4th and 5th grade teachers who are getting ready to teach main idea in informational text. For my blog post on main idea in primary grades, click here.

Teaching main idea in upper grades will have similar key skills. The primary difference in the 4th and 5th-grade main idea standards is that in 4th grade, students are looking for one main idea of an entire text. In 5th grade, students are looking for multiple main ideas.

Standards for Main Idea:

  • 4th Grade RI: Determine the main idea of a text and explain how it is supported by key details; summarize the text.
  • 5th Grade RI: Determine two or more main ideas of a text and explain how they are supported by key details; summarize the text.

Introduce Main Idea in Upper Grades:

Main idea is a skill that can give students some trouble. You may introduce the skill in seclusion and work toward mastery, but I also suggest revisiting the skill throughout the year.

When introducing main idea, an anchor chart is a good place to start. Students need to understand the purpose and parameters of main idea. An anchor chart needs to have a clear description of the topic or skill. So, you can create (or print/display) an anchor chart and revisit it throughout your unit. The anchor charts below can be printed or displayed digitally. Then, as you revisit main idea throughout the year, pull the anchor chart back out to reinforcement.

Modeling with Mentor Texts

Another essential component to teaching main idea in upper grades is modeling. There are so many high-quality informational texts out there! For main idea, I like to choose texts that have a straight-forward message. These texts may be shorter/simpler than a typical intermediate mentor text. But, they will provide you with the information students need to properly learn main idea skills.

Below are a few of my favorite Main Idea mentor texts. These texts can be used as a read-aloud in a mini-lesson. They are perfect to use with any of the graphic organizers or interactive notebook pages.

Each of the links below are affiliate links to Amazon! To grab your copy of some of these mentor texts, click the links below:

Lesson Additions

Don’t forget about adding informational videos and activities, like BrainPop! Tim and Moby make the idea of main idea easier to understand for students with great visual elements and explanations. There are graphic organizers and quizzes that your kids can use, too!

(Link: Brain Pop Main Idea Video)

Practice Simply Finding the Main Idea

When teaching main idea in upper grades, you are still going to want to scaffold skills and activities. So, you can start with simply finding the main idea with short texts or matching. In this activity, students are given four different “real-life scenarios” where they can identify the main idea. It is a great activity for drawing real-life connections so students can solidify their skills before applying them to longer texts.

Back It Up with Key Details

Your next step will be working with key details. It is important for students to be able to differentiate details. There are anchor charts, lessons, and activities specific to key details in these units. For the activity above, students will be formulating strong supportive details for each main idea statement.

This activity requires students to match details with specific main ideas. This will help students learn how to determine which details are important. It will also help them with understanding what kind of details support a main idea.

What about Multiple Main Ideas?

In 5th grade, students will be identifying multiple main ideas. For this, students will be looking for sections of information that are about a similar topic. Texts are longer and more detailed in 4th and 5th grade, so the information will be divided into sections. So, students will need to learn how to identify the main ideas of these subsections of text. Then, they will be able to figure out what the entire test is about.

This activity will have students look for the main idea of the different sections of the text. They will even be retitling the sections after learning what each section is about. Practice and skill application will be essential for students developing multiple main idea skills.

Want a free Main Idea activity to get you started?


This free digital activity comes with links to Seesaw and Google Slides for your students. They will practice their main topic or main idea skills.

Or, would you like complete units for your Main Idea unit?

I have complete units for 4th and 5th grade Main Idea. These units have lesson plans, graphic organizers, reading passages with comprehension questions, task cards, interactive notebook pages, assessments, and more! I have also created a few activities in ready-made Google Slides. These are digital Main Idea activities for 3rd and 4th Grade. Click the button below to grab the link you need.

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