Life is Non-fiction

4. Paragraphs: Finding the Main Idea and Supporting Details

Suggested Learning Intentions

  • To understand the features and purpose of paragraphs

Sample Success Criteria

  • I can identify the topic sentence and supporting detail in a paragraph
  • I can write a paragraph with a topic sentence and supporting detail
  • Dictionaries – hard copy or online
  • Information texts on animal adaptions to be available for students to conduct collaborative research
  • Paragraph Structure

Ask students to work with a partner to recreate a paragraph by sequencing sentences in a logical order. Explain that the task is to reorder the sentences to create a logical, well sequenced paragraph. Provide each pair jumbled sentences from paragraphs (See Paragraph Resource for an example in Materials and Texts).

Possible questions to support students:

  • What do you think the main idea of the paragraph might be?
  • Is there a sentence that has a general idea that is further developed in the other sentences?
  • Are any connecting words used to link sentences? For example, consequently, after, as a result of.

Enable students to identify paragraph structure by offering a range of simple sentences with clearly sequenced content.

Extend student understanding of paragraph structure by offering a range of complex sentences that are more challenging and require careful reading and attention to connective devices.

Review the task with the students.

Discuss the main idea of each paragraph.

Invite students to share their thinking and decision making.

Explain a paragraph has a topic sentence that identifies the main idea. Supporting sentences provide additional information about the main idea.

Model summarising a paragraph using a range of possible methods. For example: the table below, or a mind map with the main idea at the centre of the mind map.

Demonstrate note-taking as opposed to copying large slabs of text.

Invite students to select non-fiction texts about topics of personal interest. Ask them to practise summarising the main idea and the supporting detail of paragraphs. Their text selection ideally would link to the ‘personal wondering’ or inquiry question they posed earlier in the sequence.

Support students to read and summarise paragraphs, identifying the main idea and important details. Draw attention to language and text features such as headings, sub-headings, formal language, descriptions, diagrams, illustrations, captions, glossaries, maps, and tables.

Provide dictionaries for investigation of unknown vocabulary.

Share student work with the class and ask how paragraphs help readers to understand the meaning of text.

Record student ideas on the text features anchor chart.

Lead a shared writing exercise and use a think-aloud strategy to model planning and constructing a paragraph with a clear topic sentence and supporting detail.

Ask students to write a short paragraph using information they have gathered. 

Enable students to summarise information by providing photocopied texts and different coloured highlighters to clearly identify the topic sentence and supporting information.

Have students provide feedback to each other on the writing exercise. Possible questions to direct peer feedback could include: 

  • Is there a clear topic sentence?
  • Is there supporting details that expand on the topic sentence?

Conclude the session with a whole class discussion.

Refer to examples of student writing to discuss and refer to the success criteria.

Provide opportunities for students to provide constructive feedback and for students to respond to feedback, revising and improving their paragraphs. 

Collect the summarising and paragraph writing task for assessment.

Note student ability to:

  • summarise the key ideas
  • use a topic sentence
  • include supporting detail
  • use both simple and complex sentences
  • include descriptive language
  • include technical language.

State Government of Victoria (Department of Education and Training), 2019. Literacy Teaching Toolkit: Modelling through think alouds. [Online] 
Available at:
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

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