The adventures of a fourth grade teacher in East Central Illinois.

Identifying Key Details

This is a weird week. Due to a number of field trips and other events that are taking me away from the classroom, I have not been able to start any new material for instruction. However, I have been able to use the time available to wrap up some projects from the third quarter.

One of the projects I wanted to wrap up was our summation of the texts that my four reading groups read during our Revolutionary War unit. The students are going to be creating eight-page mini-books to summarise their books. To prepare for this, I had them work together today to identify key details, including the title and author, characters, setting, plot (including beginning, middle, and end), main idea, and then a short one-paragraph summary.

To get them started on this, I first used our shared reading text, Bridge to Terabithia, as an example. Using their books, they were able to identify the follow key details:

  • Bridge to Terabithia was written by Katherine Paterson
  • The main characters are Jesse Oliver Aarons, Jr, Leslie Burke, and May Belle Aarons
  • The setting is rural Virginia in the 1970s
  • Jess has a lot of fears, he wants to be the fastest kid in school, meets Leslie, and she beats him in a race
  • Jess and Leslie become friends and create Terabithia
  • Jess learns to overcome his fears, Leslie dies, and Jess learns to confront his fears
  • The main idea of the story is that we all have things make us afraid, but that doesn’t have to stop us

I was particularly impressed with the way my students interpreted the main idea. I happened to look up summaries on different websites to see what others said about the main idea and was really disappointed. While I agree that there are themes of friendship and resisting conformity, I don’t feel like that was the main idea, and none of my students thought so, either. (And for the record, I never actually told them what I thought the main idea was because I wanted them to identify it on their own!)

After reviewing our shared reading, I let the students get together in their groups and work together to start identifying the key details from their books. We have a field trip tomorrow morning, so the actual creation of the mini-books will have to wait until Thursday. I am looking forward to seeing the final projects, though!

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