Understanding Informational Text: 7 Motivating Activities for Early Readers

Understanding Informational Text: 7 Motivating Activities for Early Readers

by Catherine Demetros, M.Ed., Elementary Curriculum Specialist

Your students are still learning to read, so when should they begin reading to learn? Right now! In fact, reading informational text builds background knowledge, supports the development of academic language, and can capitalize on students' natural curiosity about the world around them.

Informational text often develops a topic by providing a hierarchy of main ideas and supporting details. As listeners and as readers, students need to be able to recognize text types, identify the relationships among pieces of information, and distinguish between core concepts and details. The following classroom activities will motivate your students to make the most of information in a variety of forms.


Spot the difference

Reinforce the differences between an informational text (the author presents facts about the real world to inform the reader) and a story (the author writes about realistic or imagined characters and events to entertain the reader). Share a variety of excerpts from leveled reading material. After each one, have students turn and talk to a partner to determine whether an excerpt is an informational text or a story.


Category buckets

Introduce the concept of main ideas and details through collaborative categorizing activities. Provide a broad category (main idea), such as vegetables, and have your students generate examples (details) that fit into the category. Alternatively, provide examples of items in a category and have students suggest the category name. Creating "category buckets" is a great way to engage students in exploring and then labeling collections of small, related items. For example, a plastic bucket or basket could hold things that are used to write: a pencil, a crayon, a pen, and a marker.


A common thread

Many students more readily grasp the concept of main ideas and details when presented with visual information or an illustration. With this in mind, display a fun, detailed scene, such as a photograph of a birthday party or a map of an amusement park. As your students discuss the details, record this information on the board. Next, ask your students to come up with a main idea statement by thinking about what these details have in common.


Sort the sentences

Distribute several sentence strips about a topic, including some with detail and some with main ideas. Remind your students that details often answer questions such as who, what, when, where, why, and how. Have them sort the sentences into details and main ideas, explaining their reasoning. Then, see if they can organize these sentences into a paragraph about the topic.

Draw from experience

Your students will also benefit from—and enjoy!—more expressive activities that allow them to develop their own informational topics. Develop main idea sentences for students (e.g. Some classes in our school have pets; There are many things to do at recess). Next, have students work in small groups to come up with details to support that main idea. Students can record this information in a graphic organizer, which can be used to write about or orally present the idea.


Stars and stripes

Review the difference between a main idea (i.e. the most important idea in a passage) and supporting details (i.e. pieces of information that tell more about the main idea). Explain that as we read informational text, we think about what the author is telling us, as well as how the author has organized the passage. Display and read a brief informational paragraph. Have students annotate the text in different colors, drawing a star next to the main idea and underlining the supporting details.


Paragraph analysis

If your students are ready for a more challenging opportunity to dive into informational text, present them with a multi-paragraph passage. Assign each student (or small group of students) a different paragraph within the text. Students should read their paragraph, identify the main idea and details, and record the information in a graphic organizer. Students can then use their notes to discuss their paragraph with a larger group.


Early readers benefit from exposure to informational text in all its forms—magazine features, speeches, movie reviews, how-to articles, biographies, and more. Reading for content plays an integral role in the process of learning to read. By giving your students an opportunity to become familiar with the organization of informational text and the relationships among main ideas and supporting details, you are giving them access to a world of knowledge

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