Determining Importance in Nonfiction Text

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With Common Core’s emphasis of reading nonfiction text, the comprehension strategy of determining importance is absolutely essential for readers. Determining importance means that the reader can distinguish the important information from text so they can decipher the main ideas and key details if reading expository (nonfiction) texts and the gist of the story when reading narrative (fiction) texts.

This strategy needs to be taught.

Teaching Determining Importance in Nonfiction Text

Show kids the strategy of determining importance on SHORT texts — and then have them practice. You’ll want to be guiding this process until you see evidence that they’ve mastered the strategy well enough to extend the reading to longer texts and more independent reading. I recommend reading short texts from Time for Kids, Highlights, or another well-written children’s magazine.


Brainstorm with kids HOW you can tell if information is important or just interesting.

Can you figure out the topic of the text using the title?

Does the information match the topic mentioned in the title?

Does the information correspond to the bolded words?

Does the information help you understand the topic of the text?

Do the text features give you a clue as to what’s important in the text? (They should.)

Give your kids short and obvious examples verbally you make up on the fly such as: “I got a new dog last week. She’s a lab / retriever mix and is 7 years old. Her collar is red and black but my favorite colors are pink and purple.” Ask what information is important and what is not important (interesting).

Read through the example texts together. Using a double entry journal, make one section for the information and one section for if it’s important or interesting. Write notes on what you read. Analyze if the information is important or interesting and mark on your notes.

determining importance in nonfiction

Practice together. Then have children do this on their own. Be sure you regroup to share what they thought. Then, have children reflect on how well they did with this reading strategy of determining importance. After that, ask them to set a goal for what they could improve.


When you feel that your children are proficient at determining what’s important and what’s interesting, move on to the next layer of thinking — internalizing the information.

Write three columns: topic, details, response.

Children read and write down the topic of the text, the important details, and their response. Responses ask kids to take the information one step further — to really think deeply about it. In response, they can write down:

Connections with prior knowledge




determining importance in nonfiction

Determining Importance with Younger Kids

With kindergarten and first graders, you can modify these lessons by reading nonfiction picture books and having children draw pictures instead of take notes.

Read more about ALL the reading comprehension strategies

Determining Importance in Nonfiction

Determining importance helps children learn to summarize fiction and summarize nonfiction.

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  1. I am at the beginning of my internship with second grade and have to teach a lesson on RI. 2.1. : Ask and answer such questions as who, what, where, when, why, and how to demonstrate an understanding of key details in a text. My cooperating teacher and I have planned according to the Curriculum framework, so I have to use a text from their reading unit. I believe it is Reading Street by Scott Foresman. We decided on using comprehension text coding for the students to do while they read the text. I noticed the students are having difficulty forming their questions and do not quite understand what each question stands for. Any suggestions on how I could start the lesson and give them practice before jumping into a long text on their own. The genre of the text is science, innovation, and engineering. I am doing the text called, “A Weed Is a Flower” the life of George Washington Carver.

    1. I would scaffold QAR questions, starting with a “right there” question — — one that can be answered in the text. Start with only one of the Ws — What is this about? Once the kids get the hang of that, you can move on to 1 more question — maybe when.
      Model how you would do it being sure you think aloud what your thought process is. (Hmm, I see a picture of a person. Also, I notice the title is about weeds and flowers. I’m wondering what this is about? A person or a plant?)
      Does that help?