Identifying a Central Idea and Supporting Details Using Newsela with Secondary Students

Explicit, individualized feedback allows students to more effectively develop central ideas and support them with text evidence
189 teachers like this strategy
Central Idea Reflection

About This Strategy

Identifying the central idea and its supporting details is an essential skill for all learners across the content areas. In this strategy, students are introduced to tools that they can use in order to identify central ideas and supporting details, practice these skills over time while reading Newsela texts, reflect on strategies they have used, and set goals for how they will increase their success throughout the unit. The teacher conferences with each student throughout this process to monitor their progress and support students to set measurable goals. Students will reflect on their progress daily and will make a plan for how they will continue to improve on their next response. At the end of the unit, students reflect on what they've realized about themselves as learners and how they can use this knowledge to increase their overall academic success. Because this strategy is student-centered and student-driven, learners are invested in their growth and more likely to implement what they've learned throughout their studies.

Before Reading Implementation Steps

Teacher Preparation and Planning:

  1. Before beginning, teachers should consult student reading data when available. Because has five different reading levels for each article, teachers will be able to differentiate this lesson to meet the needs of students based on reading level. Gathering reading data on students ahead of time (through other reading assessments or student binders in Newsela) will assist teachers in helping students to identify the correct lexile level. If this data is not available, teachers can simply instruct students to increase/decrease the level of the article as needed.

  2. Assign a Newsela article. You can create a text set ahead of time or you can assign articles as you go.  

  3. Provide students with a paper or electronic copy of the Central Idea Student Activity Packet in the resource section below. This packet has space for students to identify the central idea and supporting evidence for five articles, but you can modify it for your own classroom needs.


Student Preparation:

  1. Introduce (or review) the process for finding a central idea. You may consider using the Strategies for Determining a Central Idea and Supporting Details slides in the resource section below. You'll want to clearly discuss both the process for identifying a central idea and supporting details along with the rubric that will be used to assess their work.

  2. Then, ask students to brainstorm a list of additional strategies they can use to comprehend a complex text, and specifically identify a central idea and supporting details. Write these additional strategies on an anchor chart for the class to reference as they read.

During Reading Implementation Steps

  1. Have students read the assigned article on, adjusting the lexile as needed.

  2. Leave the Strategies for Determining a Central Idea and Supporting Details (in the resource section below) on the board for students to reference, and instruct students to read the text fully and then go back and highlight key ideas.

After Reading Implementation Steps

  1. This first article is meant to be a baseline, so allow students to complete the central idea and supporting details writing task in the Central Idea Student Activity Packet independently.

  2. After students complete the writing task, they should reflect on their work each day. This can be done in an interactive notebook, or you could have them complete a written version of the Identifying a Central Idea Daily Reflection Activity included in the resource section below. Either way, ask students to reflect on the following questions:

    • What was something that you did well in this reading and writing task?

    • What did you find challenging about this reading and writing task?

    • What further support would you like the next time we complete this type of reading and writing task?

    • What will you do differently on the next reading and writing task based on what you learned?

  3. Collect student packets and assess their work using the rubric. Notice trends and areas of confusion and develop re-teaching strategies or mini-lessons to support students in whole or small groups.

Additional Lessons

  1. Assign a new Newsela article for each additional lesson.

  2. Begin each class by providing focused support in areas for which students have struggled. Review the last article that students read and wrote about, modeling the process for determining the central idea effectively.

  3. For areas in which the majority of students struggled, a full-class mini-lesson is appropriate. If there is a certain skill that a group of students is struggling with, meeting in a small group is a great approach. Going over areas in which many students are struggling and providing strategies to assist in these areas in the large group or small group setting will make individual conferences much more efficient. It will also allow all students to get to work making revisions as you circle the classroom conferencing with students.

  4. Hand back packets to students. Have students revise their responses right in their packet based on your feedback while you circle the room and conference with students about their individual progress. There is no need for students to write a second copy. Going back and seeing their errors and how they changed them will be great information for students as they continue through this process. Students will be referring back to their prior work each class so that they can remember what they've learned and the steps they are taking to continue to improve.

  5. Instruct students to read the next article, using additional strategies you have discussed as a group or in a conference to improve their success.

  6. Once students have completed the packet, they should fill out the Student Reflection.

Recommended Newsela Texts or Text Sets

Identifying Central Idea and Supporting Details: Weather

  • Essential Question: What causes strange/severe weather patterns?
  • Grade Level: 6-8
  • Content Area: Science, ELA


Identifying the Central Idea and Supporting Details: Famous Speeches

  • Essential Question: How have activists used speeches to promote change?
  • Grade Level: 9-12
  • Content Area: ELA, SS
  • Additional Activity: High school students can go a step further and determine a common central idea among all three articles using the Identifying a Common Central Idea Graphic Organizer- Famous Speeches (High School) in the resource section below.


Identifying a Central Idea and Supporting Details: Earth Science

  • Essential Question : Can life be sustainable beyond Earth?
  • Grade Level: 9-12
  • Content Area: Science
  • Additional Activity: High school students can go a step further and determine a common central idea among all three articles using the Identifying a Common Central Idea Graphic Organizer- Earth Science (High School) in the resource section below.

Newsela PRO subscriber Online Writing Option

Teachers that are Newsela PRO subscribers can have students complete the central idea responses online.


Implementation Steps:

  1. Edit the write prompt so that it reads: "Write a few sentences that explain the central idea and support this idea with two pieces of text-based evidence."

  2. Assign an article or text set adding the following directions: As you read these interesting articles, you'll have the opportunity to practice your reading comprehension strategies. For each article, you'll be expected to:

    • Carefully read the article at your appropriate lexile level, annotating text as needed.

    • Determine the central idea of the article and write an ANNOTATION in the margin describing your central idea.

    • Highlight the text-based evidence that supports the central idea in YELLOW.

    • Use your notes and highlighted information to answer the write prompt, which asks you to create a short response that explains the central idea and supports this idea with two specific text-based details.

  3. Teachers can grade and provide student feedback on the written responses online using the Newsela's Writing Response Rubric in the resource section below.

  4. Students can reference their past responses, grades, and teacher feedback through their student binders.

Special Education Modification

All students benefit from carefully analyzing and reflecting on their work. Because all students are selecting or reading at an appropriate lexile, conferencing with the teacher, and learning how they can improve, this process is naturally differentiated to meet the needs of all learners.



  • More modeling of the process of selecting relevant text-based details and formulating a central idea may be needed for students with disabilities that impact their processing or focus. For students who need this additional support, teachers can use the first article as an example. Students can work together to identify a central idea and supporting text-based details, and the teacher can guide or model the process. See the Identifying/Supporting a Central Idea: Teacher Modeling resource below.

  • Students who struggle with executive functioning, processing disorders, and/or anxiety will benefit from filling out a graphic organizer like the one included in the resource section below before writing a response. This additional step will help these students (and all students) to slow down the process, build confidence, and organize their thoughts before beginning the writing process.

Questions to Consider

  • What systems will you have in place to make sure students are on task while you are conferencing with students individually? Making expectations clear for what students should be doing while you are meeting with others is essential for success. Consider having "backup" work readily available for those who finish early.

  • Where will students keep their packets so that they are readily accessible throughout this unit? Looking back at past work is an essential part of the reflection process.

  • Do the articles you have selected have an appropriate range of lexiles? You'll want to make sure all students are appropriately challenged throughout this unit.

Teacher Tips

  • I photocopied this packet in a bright color and hole-punched it so that students would be able to easily find it in their binders. Because looking back at prior work is so important in this process, you'll want to make sure students can reference it regularly.

  • While you can decrease the number of articles assigned, don't rush this process. It took my students five full tries before they were able to be truly successful at determining and supporting a central idea well. The metacognitive responses they shared with me in their reflections proved that this activity was well worth the time it took!

  • The more you can directly connect this work to the tasks students need to accomplish in their content area classrooms, the more effective this work will be. Make sure to take time each class to discuss how students are using what they are learning throughout their school day.

  • You are welcome to modify the rubric used to meet your specific needs. The rubrics I found online related to central idea were very long and complicated. I chose to compile my own simplified version. The easier the rubric is for students to understand, the more meaningful it will be for them during this process.

  • I intentionally chose not to add a point value to this rubric. I would encourage you to use standards-based grading during this unit. You can grade the final response and reflection or assign a different article as an end of unit assessment.