An Active, More Hands-On Approach to Main Idea

By the time my speech therapy students are in older grades, it can be difficult to change their perspective on reading.  They will say they hate reading, that it is “boring”, and that they are not successful at it.  Consequently, I find that working on skills like identifying main idea or summarizing to be a huge challenge.  The students are disengaged, irritable, and fiddling with everything in sight (it doesn’t help that many have an ADHD diagnosis).  No matter how engaging the article topic my be, it’s pretty hard to remove a lifelong bias against reading texts.  Plus…. these students need to be active!

Unscrambling Paragraphs to Get at Main Idea

So I thought it over and came up with a relatively simple but surprisingly effective solution to target reading comprehension goals.  I cut up paragraphs of text, put the sentence out of order, and had my students put them together into paragraphs.  The students had to make sure that all of their sentences were related to one another such that if they were reading it, the paragraph would sound coherent and have a theme or idea.  After they unscrambled the paragraphs, they then had to identify the main idea from a couple of cut-out, one-word options (While I don’t love multiple choice answers, I made this task a little more challenging by including answers that did not match any of the paragraphs and often asked the student what they thought the main idea was *before* they had  a chance to look at the options).  This activity would work well for an individual student, but since I often work with groups I put all the sentences in a pile in the middle and had each student grab 3-4 of them.  The students had to pick one sentence to focus on, discard the ones that didn’t fit, and then talk with theirs peers to see if they had the sentences they were looking for to complete their texts.  The collaborative, question-and answer approach was a nice bonus for this activity; it really got them thinking since they had to talk to their peers and identify exactly what they thought they were looking for to complete their text.  I loved that this activity allowed them to work on so many skills:

a) Putting together a coherent paragraph with a topic sentence and main idea (something they need to do for many writing assignments

b) identifying the main idea of a paragraph

c) collaborating and asking questions of their peers to complete their assigned task.   Engaging in problem-solving to get their desired sentence strips.

d) Without me even requesting it, my students went right to identifying the first sentence/topic sentence.  What drive!

I’ll get off my bragging podium for a moment and say I’m sure I’m not the first person to think of something like this, and yet it *is* true we expect our students to spend a lot of time sitting and reading without opportunity to move their hands and manipulate objects.  This is a good activity for hands-on students who learn best by holding and manipulating information.

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