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Main Idea

May 27, 2009

I have been trying to put into words or a chart the reading curriculum that has evolved in the ESL program I coordinate.  I have made a few tentative steps in that direction because some day I may have to hire some new teachers.  I want to be able to give them a sense of how the classes fit together.  This became an issue for me when I taught an intermediate reading class and ended the semester giving the final and finding 20% of final consisted of fact and opinion items.  I had not taught fact and opinion in any detail because it was not on the schedule I had inherited as more than a mention.  The two previous teachers who had taught the class most of the time over the last 8 years apparently previewed the final exam and taught accordingly.  I didn’t preview the final. 

Any way, now I have been trying to put together a more balanced final and schedule for the class.  As I am doing so, I am thinking about what we teach.  Today, I explored main idea as for what we need to teach about main idea.  I did it without a textbook, but with the textbook and materials in mind.  Now, the materials suggest that we teach general and specific with main idea, and I have done so.  However, that doesn’t work so well.  General is not an absolute term to apply to main ideas. 

A main idea consists of a topic and a comment (controlling idea).  The topic does not have to be general to be a topic of a main idea.  I can write “Gainesville is a beautiful city.”  Gainesville is my topic, yet it is specific.  The comment generally is abstract because it consists of a judgment, evaluation, or some type of opinion.  Perhaps that is the general part.  But then what do I do with exercises asking me to identify general words and specific words?  How do I relate them to main ideas? 

As I pondered this problem, I began to see how this might confuse students more than necessary.  How do I fix it?

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