Lessons & Units :: Main Idea 3rd Grade Unit

Lesson 1: First and Last Sentences (Individual Paragraph)

Lesson Plan

Learning Goal
Identify the main idea of a paragraph using the first or last sentence.
Approximately 50 minutes.
Necessary Materials
Provided: Main Idea Paragraphs for Direct Teaching and Guided Practice, Independent Practice Worksheet
Not Provided: N/A
  • Teacher Modeling

    will explain that sometimes the first or last sentence of a paragraph will tell you what the paragraph is mostly about, or its main idea. I will model the strategy of using the first or last sentences of a paragraph to help identify the main idea. I will use the first two paragraphs on the Main Idea Paragraphs page. (See Direct Teaching and Guided Practice Example Worksheet, provided below in Teacher and Student Materials.) I will discuss how I determined the main idea of each paragraph and underline the sentence that helped me do so. Note: Teachers may choose to make copies or chart these paragraphs.

    TIP: Explain to students that the main idea is often found in the first and last sentences of a paragraph, but this is not always the case.

  • Think Check

    Ask: How did I identify the main idea of the text? Students should respond that you read the paragraph, paying close attention to the first and last sentences in the paragraph. You then chose which sentence best represents what the paragraph is mostly about.

  • Guided Practice

    will continue to use the strategy of using the first or last sentence of a paragraph to identify the main idea. We will use the last two paragraphs on the Main Idea Paragraphs page. (Paragraphs are provided; see Direct Teaching and Guided Practice Example Chart below.) We will discuss how we identified the main idea of each paragraph and underline the sentence that helped us.

  • Independent Practice

    will use the strategy of using the first or last sentence to identify the main idea of each paragraph. (Student Independent Practice is provided below.) You will underline which sentence helped you identify the main idea of each paragraph.

Texts & Materials

Standards Alignment

(To see all of the ReadWorks lessons aligned to your standards, click here.)


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Thank you! I work with students with special needs that are significantly behind. This lesson is exactly what I needed.
The passages are exactly what I needed to review the concepts that some students didn't get the first or second time through. They are short and provide meaningful examples. Thanks!!
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I have to say, I just came back from a training regarding close reading in Core, and these lessons go against everything we were taught there. The idea is to get students away from relying on the first and last sentence in a paragraph or passage to gather the main idea. Stories, articles, and passages do NOT always lend themself to that strategy. These lessons will not help students taking the furure PARCC assessment, which is not so cut and dry. These lessons match OLD standards but is not the way future teaching should be taught.

Thank you very much for your thoughtful comment. It is especially important because your comments highlight the fact that skill and strategy instruction, by itself, will not enable our students to be excellent at comprehending a full text, and will not enable our students to meet all of the common core standards.

Similarly, the reading strategy of this lesson - using the introductory and closing sentences of a paragraph as one strategy to try and help understand the main idea of that paragraph - will not be enough to ensure that all students can closely read and fully comprehend the main idea of a rich text.

Skill and strategy instruction is not enough for excellent comprehension because in a rich, authentic text, the characters, setting, text structures, and other elements all combine and interact to give the text meaning – and to communicate a theme or main idea to the reader. (As an aside, that is why it is important to have lessons that focus on comprehending a rich, full text, with special focus on the theme and main idea. In fact, after 18 months working closely with leading researchers, teachers, principals, reading specialists, and students, ReadWorks is releasing a new set of comprehension lessons in the next two weeks, to add to what we provide. We are also releasing hundreds of new, authentic, reading passages – both non-fiction and fiction.)

However, explicit skill and strategy instruction remains important, as a foundation and introduction to close reading and comprehension of complex texts, and also as a resource for remediation and differentiation. Similarly, this specific lesson will continue to be a helpful resource for teachers in providing many students with the scaffolding, introduction, and remediation many of our students will need as they begin to engage in the kind of close reading, and related instruction from their teachers, as you note.

We want to get all of our students into close reading of longer, complex texts as soon as possible. And we can get all of our students there. And in many cases, specific skill and strategy instruction, and using the kind of strategies that excellent adult readers use daily - like scanning the headlines of a newspaper article, reading the topic sentence and last sentence of the introductory paragraph in the newspaper article, etc. – will play an important role.

Most importantly, we would love to hear from you, and our other fellow teachers, to hear more about what content and lessons you will need for your classroom this coming year, and to discuss the kind of instruction you are being asked to deliver. If you are able, please send us your email address at [email protected] so we can schedule a time to speak by phone (this is true for anyone else reading this reply).

Otherwise, thank you again for your comment. Please look for our new lessons coming soon, and best wishes for an excellent start to the school year.

I love it! Just what I was looking for! The model you have provided has shown that I was on the right track and I can now create my own lessons with greater confidence. As a reading teacher who works with intensive level children, my kids need at least 6-10 practice opportunities, before they master any given concept, as well as continuous review. The materials on your website have provided me with three more teaching opportunities that are directly aligned with NYS standards. Thanks a bunch:)

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