Looking for a fun way to teach the strategy of determining importance? Let’s dive in!
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Have you been following along with the collaborative blog series I’m doing with Becky Spence of This Reading Mama? Each week, we’ve shown you how to teach a specific reading comprehension strategy with picture books.
Today I’m tackling one of the tougher ones … determining importance.
If you ask a reader to tell you what s/he learned from a nonfiction text – and find that s/he completely missed the main idea, it’s likely that the learner needs help learning how to determine importance.
What does it mean to “determine importance”?
Basically, we’re asking our learners to sort what they read into two categories: essential information versus nonessential information.
I decided to teach this strategy to my kindergartner with one of his favorite series, the Who Would Win books. While I wouldn’t go so far as to call them classic, beautifully written children’s literature, three things are true:
- The books are interesting.
- The books are entertaining.
- The books are informative.
That combination makes them a win! (Not to mention the fact that my kindergartner would listen to the whole stack in one sitting.)
Introducing the strategy
To begin, we talked about the meaning of the words essential and nonessential. I explained that if something is essential, you must have it. If it’s nonessential, it’s just an extra.
“If you’re going camping, there are some things that are essential. One of those would be a tent. But a Frisbee would be a nonessential. You don’t have to have it. Something else that’s essential would be a cooler to pack your food. But I would say that a deck of cards is nonessential.”
After I gave him some examples of items, and he classified them as essential or nonessential for a camping trip, it was time to move to the book.
He chose “Who Would Win? Hornet vs. Wasp.”
I asked my Six what the author wanted us to learn. He wasn’t quite sure, so I told him, “He wants us to figure out which animal would win if they got into a fight. So we need to read to find out what information would help us figure that out. What do we need to know, and what is extra information?”
This book series is perfect for this activity. Not only does each book give useful information about the two featured animals, but each book also sidetracks into information about related animals and a few silly stories just to keep things interesting.
We decided that information about the insects’ size and body parts would be useful to know. But their scientific names and the parts of a spider were extra information.
We decided that the parts of their faces would be good to know. They might use these body parts in a fight. It was also good to know that both insects are nasty and aggressive.
But we knew that the author’s diversion into a discussion of bees, flowers, and honey wasn’t important as we worked to figure out which insect would win a fight.
We continued filling in the chart for the remainder of the book. (And in case you were wondering, the hornet wins!)
- Do this as a whole class many times before asking learners to do it on their own.
- Use the printed worksheet only with advanced learners who are ready to do a lot of writing (and for whom it isn’t a chore).
- If you want to do a similar activity with learners who aren’t strong writers, give them sticky note flags in two different colors. They can mark the essential information with one color and the nonessential information with another. Later they can meet with you or a partner to defend their choices.