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6 Best Writing Lessons Ever

Developing Main Ideas- Grade 4

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Developing Main Ideas 
Grade 4 Sample

Teaching informational writing is difficult to do with a student who has not been taught specific writing skills.  This young author is a perfect example.  It’s clear that this child is passionate about the topic but is unable to articulate this effectively in her writing.  She is still in search of broad yet distinct main ideas that would better organize her thoughts. Also, while the assignment was to write an informational piece that informs the reader about the topic, the student author has really written an opinion piece.  Note the opinion language (Who wouldn’t love that?  Would you love to have…, etc.)  Recognizing the purpose is an important first step in any writing task.  Let’s take a look.

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The introduction suggests that the main ideas/reasons will be...

Main Idea #1:  Rod Floors
Main Idea #2:  Trampolines
Main Idea #3:  Squishy mats

All of her ideas - rod floors, trampolines, and squishy mats all have to do with the characteristics of the gym and could have been elaborated on in a single paragraph.  

Actually, the only place that trampolines are mentioned is in the introduction. The use of detail generating questions “What does it look like?  Why is that Important? would help the author to elaborate on this simple list of details.  She also mentions back handsprings in paragraph two (about rod floors) as well as in paragraph four (about mats). Her ideas are not broad enough.  On another note, because she doesn’t have distinct ideas, she writes about her coaches, which was not one of her main ideas mentioned in her introduction..  

Empowering Writers has an activity called “pick, list, and choose” that would help this young author select stronger main ideas.  The teacher brainstorms with the students to help elicit more details about her experience at Cheer Station.  The list might look like this…

    formations    coaches     volunteers    tumbling

      uniforms     makeup     shoes     mats

      trampolines   floors       back handsprings      spread eagles

      stunts         managers        practice clothes          judges

Next, the teacher and students identify categories by highlighting each related detail in a different color.

      formations   coaches      volunteers       tumbling

      uniforms       makeup      shoes          mats

      trampolines     floors       back handsprings        spread eagles

      stunts         managers          practice clothes            judges

The new main ideas are listed here…

Main Idea #1:  Cheerleader moves (green)
Main Idea #2:  Characteristics of the gym (yellow)
Main Idea #3:  Clothing attire (blue)
Main idea #4:   People that are involved (purple)

These ideas are broad enough and distinct from the rest, so they won’t overlap.  The author can generate a lot of different details to support the main ideas.  Choosing main ideas can make or break a paper.  Try implementing the “pick, list, and choose” activity with your students and you’ll see the quality of details and distinction of main ideas in their informational pieces improve dramatically


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Topics:Student Writing SamplesInformational Writing