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Text mapping for main ideas

July 16, 2011

In our reading class, we have been working on main ideas and supporting details. As an out of class assignment, I asked the students to read the article Dangerous Love Online on the English Articles site. I asked my students to complete a Google form by putting in the number of the topic sentence for several paragraphs in the article. This turned out to be a good formative assessment since the students who completed the form, not all but some of the stronger ones did, did not do especially well. By that I mean they correctly identified about half of the topic sentences. I know that identifying the main idea is difficult for my students, but still the article seemed pretty straightforward with the main idea relatively easy to identify.

I saw these results and decided to try something with the same text. I took the students to the ESL lab which has computers enough for everyone during the second half of class. The lab is in the next building to where the class is held so logistically it didn’t cost much time. But this time I had my students analyze any four paragraphs of the reading using the application for mindmapping/brainstorming. Using the application, students can make a graphic organizer that looks like this

Interestingly, even the students who had identified the wrong sentence as the topic sentence used the correct sentence as the topic sentence in their graphic organizers. Looking at the submissions of the graphic organizers, I noticed one student went back to the first exercise and resubmitted her answers correcting her original wrong answers.

Now this is a small sample of only a few students, but it does suggest a hypothesis that could be further researched, if it hasn’t already been. I remember reading a lot about graphic organizers in the 1990s, but I haven’t kept up with the literature, so perhaps my experience has already been supported or not in research studies. I plan to continue using this type of activity.

The innovation for me came in using it to identify the main idea. Previously, I had used the activity with the textbook to have students identify the supports of the main idea to complete exercises in the textbook. Now, in my quest to have the students do something besides work through exercises in the classroom, I made the exercise more hands on and possibly found a useful strategy for students to use when the main idea proves difficult to find.

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