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Building Blocks of Comprehension: What's the Big Idea?
This kind of exercise is a good stepping-stone for learning how to read a paragraph or longer passage and figure out the main idea.
Instead of working with paragraphs and pages, start with words -- and concrete, comprehensible words. This kind of exercise is easy to individualze by considering readability (though reading it over with the student to make sure this doesn't present problems of its own is a good idea), vocabulary, abstractness, degree to which the ideas are related, etc.
For younger students, non-readers, second-language students, or very visual learners, you can introduce this with pictures -- show three flowers and ask what they have in common. Don't take understanding for granted -- for some students you should start simple and concrete, until it's an easy process. Only then, introduce abstractions like the fact that one thing could be in two different categories, for different reasons (yellow things and flowers, for example). Allow for some variation, and use it diagnostically. If a student perceives snakes and lizards as animals, that's correct -- but you'll want to focus on narrowing things down a bit while making sure there's the background knowledge to make the classifications you're expecting. Individualizing exercises to student areas of interest can be especially beneficial.
Sample Question: What is the name of the group to which these things belong (or "what's a good title for this list?")
Exercise 1: basic list
Exercise 2: basic list (printable file)
Basic Exercise 2
Exercise 3 - adding your own detail
Exercise 4 - adding your own detail
Harry Potter categories - 1
Harry Potter Categories - 2
Read and Write Gold: Highlighting the Main Idea Exercises
Guided exercises to teach students to use the highlighting feature to choose the category from the list of items
Pick out the category from the list- (RTF file to be printed)
Pick out category 2 (RTF for printing)