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Sticking to the Main Idea

Context for this Lesson

Teaching Strategies: 
School District: 
School or Organization: 

GENERAL TOPIC:  Expository Writing       

GRADE: 9th (English I)

FOCUS QUESTIONS:  What is a thesis sentence? What makes a good thesis sentence? How do we organize/categorize information to create a thesis?


  • A space in the room to move around
  • Printed articles
  • Highlighters
  • Chalk / Board



(15)  Writing/Expository and Procedural Texts. Students write expository and procedural or work-related texts to communicate ideas and information to specific audiences for specific purposes. Students are expected to:

(A)  write an analytical essay of sufficient length that includes:

(iii)  a controlling idea or thesis;

(iv)  an organizing structure appropriate to purpose, audience, and context; and

(v)  relevant information and valid inferences;


CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.2b Develop the topic with well-chosen, relevant, and sufficient facts, extended definitions, concrete details, quotations, or other information and examples appropriate to the audience’s knowledge of the topic.




"Today we are going to be focusing on the importance of a strong thesis statement in expository writing. One of the first steps to expository writing is deciding what idea or information you’d like to communicate, and how you’re going to organize and present that information to your reader. I’m going to ask that you get up onto your feet for an activity to start us thinking about how we approach gathering and grouping information."




"When I say “Go” I’m going to ask you to start walking around and Covering the Space. (Set parameters for where they can and can’t walk). Covering the Space means you are in constant motion, making sure that as a class you are evenly distributed throughout all the available classroom real estate. This is going to be a completely silent activity, and we’re going to move carefully and quietly through the room, respecting each other’s personal space. You’ll also want to listen for me to say “Freeze” at which point you’ll stop moving and await further instruction. Questions? Great, GO!" Practice covering the space and freezing, maybe the second time ask them to start noticing what their classmates are wearing and maybe add a round where they go through “cover the space” complimenting people on something they’re wearing or just giving a small verbal greeting. Variations of “Cover the Space” for approximately 5 minutes.

While in a freeze (If there has been a variation of “Cover the Space” with a verbal component): "Now we’re going to go back to a silent activity, so it’s going to also challenge you to find non-verbal ways to communicate. That means not only no words, but no sounds at all. When I say “Go” I’d like you to start moving around the room and putting yourselves into groups based on what you’re wearing on your feet. “Go!”


  • Remember them that this is a silent activity.
  • Count down how much time they have remaining to create their group.

When groups are completed:

"Okay, now I’m going to give you about 30 seconds to discuss with your group what your group’s Title is. How would you “name” the group you’ve created?"

Share out Titles.

"That was great work, everyone. Now when I say “go” again, you’re going to form new groups, so totally different categories. And this time, you ARE allowed to talk. GO!" Once groups have formed have them choose a Title for their new group.

"Okay, good. We are going to do one more round, except this time, I want to challenge you to get yourselves into categories that have nothing to do with the shoes’ physical characteristics. So get into groups based on something that is unrelated to your footwear’s physical appearance, or physical characteristics inside or out. Go!"

One more round of choosing and sharing titles.

Processing Questions:

  • What did we notice while participating in this activity? Was anything difficult?
  • What were some ways that we categorized ourselves? What were our categories based on? What types of qualities did we look for to make groups?
  • Did categories ever have to shift or expand and if so why?
  • Did anyone realize that their footwear could belong to multiple categories?
  • How is a title like a thesis statement? (Synthesize answers to explicitly state that a title is like the “main idea” or thesis of a paper, in that it distills the essence of what the category contains. Scribe this as a “definition” of thesis statement/main idea).

Scribe concepts on the board

Synthesizing Questions:

  • If we imagine shoes as pieces of information, how might we apply this to expository writing? What do we make of the fact that this information could be labeled or categorized several different ways, for instance, visual information vs non-visual, etc?
  • At what point during the writing process do we see ourselves categorizing information?

Transition: "In an expository essay where the point is just to inform and not to necessarily persuade or convince a reader of anything, the information we choose to include, and the way we group our information always tells a story."

"Now we’re going work on identifying the main idea of someone else’s story or writing. We’re going to do this by looking at some articles and using our bodies to create an image that we feel represents the main idea."



Teach tableaux to the whole group using an example thesis statement. For instance, Let’s say we were given an article whose main idea is ‘Dogs make better pets than cats because dogs are more playful and can go more places with you.’ Use volunteers and maybe the teacher to demonstrate how to make a representational stage picture. Talk a little about what makes a good picture, what can be communicated through levels and distance, the importance of facial expressions, and in a stage picture bodies can become anything, from animals to objects to abstract ideas like freedom or injustice.

Divide group into half and have them go to different sides of the room.

"In just a moment we’re going to give each group an article. You’re going to read the article together as a group and then all of you are going to decide on the “main idea” of the article. Once you’ve decided the “main idea” or “thesis” of the article, you’re going to write it down on a separate piece of paper. Then, in your groups, you’re going to create an image that represents that main idea. So first, read the article as a group. Then, decide on the main idea together and write it down. Then, you’re going to use that sentence you wrote down to create a stage picture using all of the members of your group." 

SHARING information:

Hand out articles that are two different approaches/opinions about the same idea that are short enough (no more than two pages) to be read in about 15-20 minutes. Circulate to help them with words or concepts they might not know, but if the article is not too difficult, they should be able to help each other and use context clues to grasp the basic meaning. When it appears both groups have finished reading the article, guide them to start working on writing their main idea. The main idea should not take more than 3-4 minutes to write. Once they have pulled out a main idea, or if you need to push them along, tell them that they should start working on their image. They should only have about 2 minutes to create the image they’re going to share. Ideally, the groups will stay pretty close in their completion of each step. Prompt them along as needed, time-wise.

Side-coaching for Identifying the Main Idea and Creating the Image:

  • Refer them to their scribed definition of “main idea”
  • Remember creating a “title” for shoes….write a main idea that describes what this article contains.
  • Write your OWN main idea sentence based on what you think the article is about. Don’t just copy a sentence from the article.
  • You might have to hold this image for a while, so pick a pose you can hold.
  • Remember to physically respect your classmates. If someone would prefer not to be in a certain pose or not be touched, they should say so and it should be instantly respected.
  • Remember what makes a good stage picture, and the importance of facial expression in communicating information.

When each group has finished creating an image, have the group present the image to the rest of the class. While the presenting group is frozen in their image:

  • What do we see in this image?
  • What do we think that might mean? What does this pose represent? And this one?

After getting some ideas from the audience about what they see in the image, one of the teachers  will read out the group’s Main Idea statement while the group is still frozen. (It might be necessary to give the group a moment to relax while we’re discussing and unpacking their image, but they should get back into pose before the title/main idea is read).

After one group’s main idea has been read with the image, allow the next group to present. Follow the same procedure of collecting ideas from the class about the image first, and then read the group’s Main Idea statement while the group is in their frozen image.

As a closer to this activity, have the group revisit the article and see if they can find a sentence in the article that closely matches the “main idea” sentence they wrote. Have them highlight it and read both their own sentence and the highlighted sentence out.




  • What have we done so far today?
  • What are some ways that you went about identifying a “main idea” from the article?
  • What are some examples of what you looked for in the article?
  • Why do you think we played the Shoes game before we went into reading the articles and identifying the main ideas?
  • What can you take from these activities that you might apply to writing a thesis statement in the future?