Determining Importance: Helping Students Recognize Important Points in Content Text

Determining importance is a strategy that readers use to distinguish between what information in a text is most important versus what information is interesting but not necessary for understanding. This practical reading strategy enables students to distinguish between the most and least important information presented in textbooks and nonfiction reading.

Although teachers find this strategy difficult for many students to accurately execute, it is essential to comprehending complicated nonfiction text. As teachers we need to explicitly and systematically teach our students how to extract the most important information they read.

To help students make connections with the strategy of determining importance, we bring a bag filled with camping items to the classroom. We tell the students that they must choose five of the most important items needed for an imaginary camping trip and list a compelling reason for each item chosen. Once the students have had the opportunity to select and think about their chosen supplies, they turn to a partner and discuss their decisions.

When students are given the opportunity to combine facts and ideas together in order to solve a given problem, higher-order thinking and reasoning skills are utilized.

When we teach this strategy to students in grades 2-5, we tell them they need to become detectives and search for the most important points of the text. We remind them that along the way there will be distractors, or less important information, given to make the selection more interesting or clearer to the reader. This information, however, is not essential to understanding the point of the nonfiction text.

In order to help students build their skill and confidence in this strategy, we must provide explicit instruction and ample opportunities for guided practice. This systematic instruction will give students many opportunities to practice before they are required to use the strategy independently. The following templates, What’s It All About?, Interesting vs. Important, and Strategy Focus Steps can be used to practice the determining importance strategy with the article “Reader of the Rocks.”


Templates

The following templates can be used to help support students’ understanding of “Reader of the Rocks” article by using the reading strategy, determining importance. The templates are designed to give students the opportunity to read, think, and talk about how they have prioritized the information given in the text. Depending on the academic needs in your classroom, the templates can be used to differentiate the comprehension activities for your students.

Strategy Focus Steps (To be used during reading)
This template is an instructional tool we use to explicitly guide our students through this particular reading strategy. The systematic steps make this difficult reading strategy manageable for all learners.

What’s It All About? (To be used after reading)

Grades 2-3

Grades 4-5

This template is designed for students to use after they have read the text. The goal of this template is to provide students with the opportunity to distinguish between the main ideas and the interesting details given in the text.

Interesting vs. Important (To be used during or after reading)
We use Interesting vs. Important to give students a purpose for rereading the text. This activity gives students practice in recognizing what information is important in the text and what is interesting but not essential to understanding it.

Determining Importance Literacy Set
This Content Clips set includes all of the materials you need to teach the strategy of Determining Importance: this article (pdf document), printable and electronic book versions of “Reader of the Rocks” for grades K-1, 2-3, and 4-5, and the student templates.


ONLINE RESOURCES

Determining Importance in Nonfiction
This link gives a list of key points to share with students when working with determining importance.

Determine Importance
This site gives ideas for additional opportunities to practice the strategy.


Books

Mosaic of Thought. Ellin Oliver Keene and Susan Zimmerman. 2007. Heinemann.

This book focuses on the seven core strategies that successful readers use to engage with text. Mosaic of Thought is grounded in the latest research and offers many classroom examples of teaching comprehension.

Strategies That Work. Stephanie Harvey and Anne Goudvis. 2000. Stenhouse Publishers.

The authors of Strategies That Work present a variety of practical ways to promote thinking while reading through authentic response options. This book includes examples of student work and instructional reading strategies.

Spotlight on Comprehension. Linda Hoyt. 2005. Heinemann.

Spotlight on Comprehension is packed full of ready-to-use strategies for reading comprehension and assessing understanding. The book contains ideas from many of the top researchers in the field. Teachers will find useful tools such as rubrics, sample lessons, book lists, and strategy lists.


This article was written by Tracey Allen and Clarissa Reeson. Tracey is a literacy coach and Clarissa currently teaches third grade in Yuba City, CA. Both are educational consultants for REAL Educators (www.realeducators.net). For more information, see the Contributors page. Email the authors at beyondpenguins@msteacher.org.

Copyright September 2008 – The Ohio State University. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0733024. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. This work is licensed under an Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported Creative Commons license.

3 thoughts on “Determining Importance: Helping Students Recognize Important Points in Content Text

  1. Wow! This was a great way to help kids get organized!! Great ideas and resources for the kids to use while reading. It really spells it out. Well done!

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