Fun Activities for Teaching Main Ideas and Details

Updated February 14, 2020
Parents helping children with homework at table

Teaching main ideas and supporting details through fun activities helps kids grasp this important abstract concept. Learning about main ideas can be challenging and frustrating for students of all ages, so make lessons fun with activities that don't feel like work.

Printable Main Idea Activity Pages

One way to make main idea activities fun is to incorporate cool main idea PDFs that feature silly or entertaining graphic organizers. Visual aids provide a concrete representation of main ideas and details so kids can better understand the concept. Click on the worksheet you like best to get started. If you need help downloading any of the printables, check out these helpful tips.

Main Idea Hamburger Worksheet

A drawing of a hamburger loaded with toppings visually represents a passage. The hamburger patty, or the meat of the sandwich, holds the main idea. The garnishes represent the details in the paragraph. You can start by filling in details or the main idea. One of the best ways to use this worksheet is to let kids fill it out as you're reading a paragraph or story out loud.


Main Idea Umbrella Worksheet

When kids use the main idea umbrella worksheet, they can see that the main idea is what covers the entire passage. The main idea goes on the umbrella which covers everything underneath it. The details go in the puddles under the umbrella. Try making a separate umbrella for different picture books you plan to read throughout the day by filling in the information yourself. At the end of the day have your kids guess which umbrella goes with which story.

umbrella printable

Main Idea Ice Cream Cone Worksheet

An ice cream cone provides another option for a fun main idea activity. The cone represents the main idea, because it ties all the details together. Students write the main idea on the cone and supporting details on the ice cream. If you're feeling especially artistic or creative, cut out the cone as is. Add construction paper scoops of ice cream and let kids add multiple details on each scoop. This is an ideal project for those who love to lapbook.

ice cream printable

Idea Web Worksheet

Idea webs allow you to practice identifying the main idea and supporting details of a paragraph. A large circle in the middle holds the main idea of the excerpt. Lines branching off the main idea lead to details that support it. This is a better illustration of how each detail relates directly to the main idea. Let kids make it more fun by coloring it to look like anything they can imagine such as a robot or a flower.

idea web printable

Main Idea Activities for 1st and 2nd Grade

In Kindergarten, kids master basic reading skills, so they are ready to learn more about reading comprehension in first and second grade. While early years teaching ideas focus on categorization, kids in these grade levels are ready to learn what a main idea is and what details are.

Bag It and Tag It

Bag main idea activities are popular with this age group because they get kids active and learning at the same time. You can adjust the way you present the activity to fit each child's individual skill level. Kids who have more trouble with reading comprehension should be given a bag that has a main idea written on it. Highly skilled readers can write their own main idea on the bag. Give kids about five to ten minutes to gather items from around the room or the house that fit with their main idea.

Two Words Only

Understanding the main idea is all about being able to tune out extraneous details. In this activity, kids are challenged to choose only two words to summarize a particular event, representing the main idea of it. The two word description works well for a variety of topics, including a dream they had the previous night, what happened over the weekend, or a favorite party they attended. "Scary monsters" is an example for a dream. It includes important elements that provide a basic description, or main idea, of a dream.

Picture This

Kids get to illustrate a main idea in their own way with this fun art activity. Give your child a large, blank piece of paper and some crayons. Read a short story, like a free alien story, out loud. While you're reading, your child should draw one picture on their paper that shows what the story is about. The activity will work best if you read the story once while your child simply listens, then let them draw during your second reading. While their illustration can contain multiple elements, it should show the main idea of the story clearly.

Girl holding a drawing of her family

Main Idea Activities for 3rd, 4th, and 5th Grade

Main idea lesson plans for upper elementary students incorporate a broader variety of texts. Kids in this age group should be able to identify the main idea in short passages and longer stories, in fiction and nonfiction, and in other mediums outside the written word.

Title This

Gather a bunch of images of book covers that your child is not familiar with. Use a large chalk board or dry erase board for the activity. Hang one book cover on the board and give your child one minute to write as many title ideas as she can for that book. Explain that these title ideas should be based on what your child thinks the main idea of the book will be. After time is up each round, discuss why your child thought those title ideas were good and reveal the actual title. This gets kids looking at details, like images, to figure out the main idea.

Detail Detective

Having your child identify details in a piece, rather than the main idea, seems counterintuitive. However, the activity forces your child to identify the difference between insignificant details and major points. To do this activity, give your child a highlighter and a paragraph. Tell him to highlight all the small details in the paragraph, so that the major points and main idea are unhighlighted when he's finished. When he is done, have him find the main idea of the paragraph based on the information that isn't highlighted.

Newspaper Main Idea Scavenger Hunt

The newspaper provides a useful tool for practicing main ideas with older kids. Grab a bunch of different newspapers and lay them out on a table or the floor. You can browse the stories ahead of time or make some general assumptions about the kinds of things your child can find in any newspaper. Create a scavenger hunt list of main ideas your child should be able to find like "Someone died too young." or "How they will use the money." Give your child time to find and cut out stories that match all the scavenger hunt items.

A boy reading newspaper with a magnifying glass

Main Idea Activities for Middle School and High School

Even kids in junior high and high school still learn about and practice finding the main idea and key details. As kids get older, they'll explore more complex texts. For tweens and teens, look for activities that incorporate videos, oral speeches, and actions to show that main ideas go far beyond reading.

Foreign Language Inference

Inference lesson plans about main ideas are great for this age group because older kids have already learned what a main idea is and how to find it. If your child is learning a foreign language, find a passage written in that language. Look for a short story, picture book, or news story that includes images. Have your child write the English version of words they recognize in the passage. Using this rough translation of some of the words and the picture that goes with the story, teens will need to infer what the main idea is.

Main Idea Brick Build

Use complex interlocking bricks like LEGOs to help older students show how details build up to a main idea. Using Washi tape and markers, kids will need to write detail words on individual bricks and build some type of structure that shows how the details relate to the main idea, which also needs to be taped onto bricks.

Main Idea Activities Lead to Better Writing

Main ideas and details activities encompass a broad range of concepts and applications. These activities provide the necessary practice for kids to identify the basic topic of writing, leading to a better understanding of the piece. Whether they are just beginning or need a refresher, main idea activities serve as a key component to the language arts curriculum.

Fun Activities for Teaching Main Ideas and Details