Every time I teach main idea I always start with this little demonstration. I get out an index card, a clump of clay, and four toothpicks. I then tell my students, the index card represents the main idea while the toothpicks represent the supporting details. I then using the clay, I attach the supporting details to the main idea. The entire piece represents a paragraph. The paragraph cannot stand alone with just supporting details, nor can it stand alone with just a main idea. I also point out that the more supporting details you have, the better because it really holds up or supports the main idea. This concrete illustration helps students understand main idea a bit more.
However, you are not limited to only using this idea for main idea- you could choose to use it for writing- demonstrating how important it is to have a topic sentence (the index card) and supporting details (the toothpicks) to hold them together. Use the clumps of clay as transition words between the main idea and the supporting details. I have even placed a sticker on top of the “table” to represent a center piece on a table and told my students this is the final touch of the paragraph – a nicely wrapped up conclusion.
NOTE: In the beginning when you first create this table, you’ll want to practice standing it up on the toothpicks before doing it in front of students. I say this because it takes some practice to “tweak the table legs” a bit to stop from toppling over- but once you practice a few times, you’ll be pro. Also, it definitely better to use clay rather than play dough, as it’s more firm and more likely to hold the sticks in place.