Day 23: Picking Out Main Ideas
When you first start reading history books with your children, you will probably start out with some fairly simple picture books. However, by the time your student is in high school, depending on your curricular goals, you might want him to be able to read portions of that very first history text, Herodotus’ The Histories or some other fairly weighty reads. Reading difficult books requires not only a well-developed vocabulary, but also a well-developed ability to pick out an author’s structure, argument, and main idea.
Furthermore, higher-level writing assignments require students to have a good sense of organization and argument and an ability to write a solid outline.
Far too many of my fellow college classmates did not have a firm grasp on this. When asked to analyze a book, would write up a summary of what they thought was interesting rather than a solid analysis of the author’s argument. When asked to write an argumentative history paper on something to do with WWII, for example, they would often spend 80% of the paper giving the background for WWII (dates, major battles and people, chronology of the war, etc.) and then in the conclusion paragraph, they would toss in their opinion, when instead they should have stated the opinion at the beginning and spent the entire paper backing it up.
It takes many years and a deal of hard work to develop these organizational and argumentative skills. You will most likely want to find a good writing or rhetoric curriculum for your kids, of course, to help you teach these skills. However, in the next several days, I will give you some tips on teaching writing. In my opinion, history is a great subject in which to practice writing skills. There is an endless amount of content to write about in history, and it gives us a chance to have students write about something much more formal than “My favorite pet.” It’s also something about which many older students will have formed opinions on–thus providing great material for argumentative writing.
Start early in teaching your child to pick out the structure of a book. When your child narrates, guide him to talk about the most important parts and not just the small details that interested him. (Most of the time, you don’t want to correct and guide your student too much during narrations, but sometimes you can listen to the narration and talk about it further afterwards. Jog her memory about that one part that she didn’t mention, etc.)
When you discuss books, talk about what the author seemed to spend a lot of time talking about or what seemed to be really important.
As the student enters fifth grade (or somewhere around this time), teach him the basic format for an outline and have him outline small segments of his history reading. Have him start by simply using Roman numerals to list the main ideas.
Later teach him to write some of the supporting details for each of those main ideas.
Practice reading very obviously opinionated newspaper articles or primary sources and have your student find the author’s opinion and thesis statement.
Have your student practice, practice, practice outlining what she reads. This will prepare the student for writing his own original outlines for papers.