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ESL Main Idea Lesson Plan

Instructor: Mary Beth Burns

Mary Beth has taught 1st, 4th and 5th grade and has a specialist degree in Educational Leadership. She is currently an assistant principal.

In this lesson plan, ESL students will engage in a series of activities that will help them determine the main idea of an image and text. Students will practice speaking, listening, reading and writing in order to meet the objective.

Learning Objectives

Upon completion, students will be able to:

  • Determine the main idea of a set of images
  • Determine the main idea of a text
  • Write a sentence explaining the main idea of an illustration


45-60 minutes

Curriculum Standards

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.3.2

Determine the main idea of a text; recount the key details and explain how they support the main idea.

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.3.4

With guidance and support from adults, produce writing in which the development and organization are appropriate to task and purpose.

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.3.2

Determine the main ideas and supporting details of a text read aloud or information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally


  • Main Idea
  • Details


  • Envelopes with the following sets of labeled pictures:
    • Birthday party pictures (cake, balloon, present, piñata, party hat)
    • Beach pictures (waves, sand, beach umbrella, sand castle, sea shell)
    • School pictures (pencil, desk, teacher, backpack, scissors)
    • Thanksgiving pictures (turkey, cornucopia, pilgrim, pumpkin pie, family)
  • Read aloud text, such as:
    • 'Chrysanthemum' by Kevin Henkes
    • 'A Bad Case of Stripes' by David Shannon
    • 'The Rainbow Fish' by Marcus Pfister
  • Copies of various illustrations from books, one per student (do not include the words from the text)
  • Blank writing paper, one per student
  • Glue sticks, one per student
  • Construction paper, one per student



  • Divide students into four groups.
  • Give each group an envelope.
  • Ask the group of students to work together to determine what are the pictures all about.
  • Call on students to share responses and address misconceptions as they arise.
  • Reveal the correct answers to the students (birthday party, beach, school and Thanksgiving).
  • Explain to the students that they just determined the main idea, which is what the pictures were all about.
  • Have students repeat the phrase 'main idea.'
  • Explain to the students that they also just determined the details, which were the individual pictures.
  • Explain that details are the little parts that make up one big main idea.
  • Have students repeat the word 'details.'

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