Teach Reading Strategies to High School Students

Identify Main Idea and Specific Detail Multiple Choice Questions

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Sep 5, 2009ThadraPetkus

Many students struggle with developing reading skills well into tenth and eleventh grade. Here are some strategies to help students tackle two common question types.

Students are often tested on their reading comprehension skills with teacher-made, state and national multiple choice tests. Teachers can guide students to develop specific test-taking strategies while helping them increase their reading comprehension with this easy lesson plan.

Lesson Initiating Activity to Prompt Reading Comprehension

Teachers should start this lesson by reading aloud a brief excerpt from a novel or short story, such as To Kill a Mockingbird [Grand Central Publishing, 1988] by Harper Lee. Then, they can ask their students what is the main idea of the passage. Once students respond appropriately, teachers can ask students to identify specific details that support the stated main idea.

Understand the Main Idea of a Passage

To start, teachers can explain that the main idea of a passage is basically a brief summary that encompasses more than just one portion of the passage. It should not, however, summarizes events outside of those stated in the passage or analyze the events. Instead, the main idea should be concise, factual, and supported by specific details in the passage.

Use Reading Strategies to Identify the Main Idea

When strengthening their reading skills, students should learn specific test-taking strategies for identifying the main idea in multiple choice questions. When faced with four potential answer choices in multiple choice format, students must use process of elimination to narrow down their answer choices. To do so, students should learn to eliminate the following.

  • answer choices that are too general and go beyond the scope of the passage
  • answer choices that are too specific and focus on one or two details rather than the entire passage
  • answer choices that are irrelevant, or do not directly relate to the passage
  • answer choices that make false statements

Once students can identify these wrong answers, they will develop confidence in selecting the correct answer choice. They will feel empowered because they can specifically identify why an answer choice is incorrect. With practice, students will start to feel that the correct answer choice almost jumps out at them. Teachers should continue to remind students that the main idea is a summary of a passage rather than a specific detail or an analysis of the passage.

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Understand Specific Details in a Passage

Teachers should explain to students that specific details support the main idea of a passage. They are always found directly in the passage and often relate to the senses of sight, sound, or touch. Teachers can encourage students to underline no more than three key details in each paragraph of a passage. Once they have done so, students can reflect on how these details help support the main idea.

Use Reading Strategies to Identify Specific Details

While specific detail questions can always be answered directly in the passage, the correct answer choice will likely be worded differently than the sentence in the passage. For this reason, students should be instructed to look for key words as well as synonyms resembling words in the answer choices. They should be careful to look for words that negate the meaning of an answer choice as they do not want to select an answer choice that states the opposite of what is described in the passage.

When teaching reading strategies to high school students, teachers should help raise students’ consciousness for various strategies related to specific questions types. The two most common types of reading comprehension questions are main idea and specific details. While these are simple to understand, they can be challenging to identify in complex high school level passages.

Lee, Harper. To Kill A Mockingbird. NY: Grand Central Publishing, 1988.

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