Determining the Importance in Text
1. Proficient readers make instantaneous decisions about what is important
in text at the following levels:
Word Level: Words that carry the meaning are contentives. Words that connect
are functors. Contentives tend to be more important to the overall meaning of
passage than functors.
Sentence Level: There are usually key sentences that carry the weight of
meaning for a passage or section. Often, especially in nonfiction, they contain
bold print, begin or end the passage, or refer to a table or graph.
Text Level: There are key ideas, concepts, themes in the text. Our opinions
about which ideas are most important change as we read the text.
2. Decisions about importance in text are made based on the following:
The reader’s purpose
The reader’s schema for the text content
The reader’s beliefs, opinions, and experiences related to the text
The reader’s schema for text format
Concepts another reader mentions prior to, during, or after reading
Pointing out non-examples (or what is unimportant) can help children to
distinguish importance more clearly
Interesting discussions emanate from dispute about what is most important –
children need to work toward defending their positions
3. Prompts for determining importance in text:
What is this story or piece mostly about?
Can you tell me about some of the important ideas that struck you?
Any important themes you noticed?
What do you think is most important to remember about this story/topic?
What don’t you need to know in this story?
Tell me what you read about.
Select a word that is repeated throughout the paragraph and highlight it.
Highlight words you don’t know or don’t understand.
What do you think the author is trying to tell you?
Sample Strategy Study:
The teacher begins by modeling: thinking aloud about his/her own process of
determining importance during reading. Modeling should occur frequently using short
selections. The teacher should focus not only on conclusions about importance, but on
how and why he or she arrived at those conclusions. It is important to think aloud
about how the focus on what he or she believes to be important enhances
In small and large group mini-lessons, students are gradually invited to share their
thoughts about what is important at the whole-text level, and later at the word and
sentence level. Students should provide some evidence or reasoning to support their
Students may meet in small groups or pairs to compare ideas about what is most
important in text and how they came to that conclusion. They should be asked to
discuss how their comprehension is enhanced by focusing on themes they believe to be
Book clubs focus on determining importance during strategy study. They discuss
different conclusions about important ideas if all are reading the same text, or ways in
which the members of the book club drew conclusions about importance if each is
reading a different book.
In reading conferences with students, conversation can focus on what decisions the
child is making about important ideas in a variety of texts. Think-alouds are an effective
way to assess the student’s use of the strategy.
Invitational (needs-based) groups are created for children who need more modeling and
Text sets can be used to invite children to draw conclusions about important themes
found in all (or most) books with a common characteristic, i.e., books by the same
author, or books about the same topic, books with poetic language, books with strong
lead sentences or passages, books written in a particular style or format, etc.
Sharing time at the conclusion of the reader’s workshop should focus on ideas individual
children found important in their independent reading for the day, how they arrived at
their conclusions, and how thinking about important ideas enhanced their
Connections between this strategy and other strategies the children have learned
should be made throughout the study.
Modeling in a variety of texts – genre and difficulty – is critical. Modeling is most
concentrated at the beginning of a strategy study, but does continue throughout.
Students may gradually assume responsibility for modeling their own conclusions about
importance in texts they are reading.
Mosaic of Thought p. 95-96