I really struggled when I first began to teach main idea. It seemed like curriculums only provided one way to teach it – read a short paragraph and determine the main idea of the paragraph.
But there are other ways to teach main idea. The video below shows how you can use technology to help teach main idea and provide students with a word cloud visual aid to help them better understand.
You can also check out my other main idea resources.
Note: Although Wordle used to be the most well known word cloud creator, there are now many alternatives. You might find some of these other websites easier to use:
What is Wordle?
Wordle is an easy to use online tool that generates word clouds using the text you provide. The more often a word is mentioned, the bigger it shows up in the Wordle. In this example, you should easily be able to tell that the text that this Wordle was based off of was mainly about the differences and similarities between butterflies and moths.
Using Wordle to Teach Main Idea
So how can you use Wordle to teach main idea? In my 3rd grade classroom, I would use it by first reading an article together. Then, we would discuss what the article was mainly about. What was the most important part? What details were included to support the main idea? After discussing this, I would ask the students to make a prediction about what a Wordle of this article would look like. What words would be the biggest? What words would be included in the Wordle, but not as big?
We would then copy and paste the article we read into Wordle and see if our predictions were correct.
I would also use Wordle to show students how titles are usually good clues as to the main idea of an article. (Read more about how to teach students about main idea using titles here.) In this example, the title of the article was “Earthquake Hit Central Italy,” which correlates to the biggest words in the Wordle.
If you use this in your classroom, it’s important for students to understand that just because a word is mentioned often doesn’t necessarily mean it’s part of the main idea. Have discussions with students about whether the agree with the size of some of the words in the Wordle. In the example above, I would ask students if they agree that the word “Amatrice” (a city in Italy) is as important as the Wordle thinks it is. Are there other words that should be larger? Should Amatrice be smaller? During the discussion, encourage your students to use the text to defend their reasoning.
There are many other educational uses for Wordle (for example, using this activity to teach character traits), but teaching main idea is often overlooked!