Teaching Main Idea to Elementary Students

Main idea can be a tricky skill to teach, especially to young learners! Although it is a difficult concept to master, it is a crucial skill your students need to comprehend what they read. Before you begin teaching main idea in reading passages, help your students to master this skill with images and real items. My favorite way is with a mystery!

It's helpful to have students think of main idea like a puzzle, all of the details come together to make "the big picture." I tell my students that putting together details to solve puzzles is like solving a mystery. They love the idea of getting to be detectives!

To teach main idea, I use "Main Idea Mystery Bags." In each bag, I include 5 different pictures that are all related. Students will take out each picture or "clue" to see what they have in common. For example, in the mystery above, I have included pictures of socks, a coat, a sweater, a hat, and a shirt. The main idea of this would be clothes. You can find pictures of the items you want to use or include real items.

I give my students magnifying glasses in case they need to take a "closer look" at our clues! It's a small detail but they love it! Once students have looked at their clues and they know what the main idea is, they can write it on the recording sheet.

In the mystery above, the bag is labeled as "Main Idea Mystery #1." Students will write the main idea next to the appropriate number. Students will do this with each mystery.

Finally, when students are finished, they can check their answers. I put my answer key in a small envelope, like the one above. To keep with the mystery theme, I added "top secret" and "confidential" to it. I found the words by doing a simple Google search. 

Checking answers in the "top secret" envelope.

There you have it! Fun, engaging, and a concrete way to teach main idea to your little ones! Want more fun and less prep? You can get the main idea mystery bags seen above along with bags that includes sentences by clicking here or on the picture below!

Ready for your freebie? You can get a one of the recording sheets from my main idea mystery bags by clicking here! Use these with your own mystery bags to check students understand!

If you have used main idea mystery bags, what have you put in yours? What are somethings you would put in yours? Leave me a comment below!!

Happy Teaching!,


  1. This is such a great post to read as they are giving us the good solutions of teaching good and great skills to elementary students. Thanks for the share

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