Classroom Rules Activity: Main Idea and Details

Every year I start out by talking to my fourth graders about rules.  But by fourth grade, they already know, on paper, what classroom rules should be.  So I've always asked them what they think the rules should be instead of telling them "these are my rules." 

And yet until last year, I would alter those rules, combine with other ideas, throw out "obvious" rules, until lo and behold, their rules were the same as I happened to have on my poster that I'd secretly kept from the previous years.

I don't do that anymore!

Of course, when my students list rules, some are too general, some are more motivational phrases than actionable rules, and a couple are rules that I feel are actually unnecessary.  They also used to be an overabundance of "Don'ts," however once this went out of fashion a few years ago, it seems that by the time they get to my class nowadays they've had enough models of rules phrased as a positive ("stay quiet" instead of "don't talk") that I don't even have to "fix" those (I allow some, I just keep them in the minority).  So of course I still need to "tweak" their rules, but I do NOT put up the same poster every year.

The trouble we DO run into is that we can end up with nearly 50 rules.  So I tell them, "obviously we are never going to be able to remember every single rule on its own.  So it's going to be very hard to follow them!  Are there any we can throw out?"  Once we realize that they are in fact all important, I promise them, "tomorrow I'll teach you a way that we can group these rules to make them easier."

How to Teach Main Ideas and Details

This is when our discussion about rules turns into a reading/writing/executive functioning lesson: sorting details from main ideas.  This is usually SO difficult for kids to grasp, and I used to think it was so hard to teach (since I used to be bad at it when I was their age).  So I model it in the easiest way I know; so simple that many preschoolers would have some success: relate it to animals. 

I start sticking these cards on the board, and at the end I write the sentence in blue.  They're all yelling out the answer before I can even finish the question. 

Next I tell them to think about ways they're alike, and tell me what groups to put them into.  I draw 3 columns as a hint, and listen in as they "turn and talk with a partner."  When they answer, they will usually say, "These 3 are all birds," I'll ask, "How do you know?"  This is because we'll be talking about "finding evidence" a LOT this year.  And finally we name the groups.

Next I ask if there is any other way we can sort these words.  I move "eagle" over into the middle column and ask if the animals are all related in some way.  Kids might see that they are all wild animals.  I ask if robins and blue jays are different; are they not wild animals?  We start to find that there is more than one way to name the groups; sometimes it results in the cards being in different columns, and there is no one right answer.

How to Relate Main Idea and Details to Rules

Next, I gave each group a set of sentence strips.  Last year I "fixed" the strips so that each group would come to a single main idea.  I even threw a main idea strip into the mix to see if they could find it and check if the rules below it "fit inside it." 

This year I mostly fixed the strip distribution it so that each group would have 2 sets of details, and they had to figure out the main idea on their own.  They still have plenty to learn when it comes to compromise and hearing all voices, but I was able to point out some positive behaviors for others to watch and learn from.

In the end, we were able to come up with 5 topics.  Some groups realized their main ideas were synonymous so we needed to combine their piles into one.  Some strips needed resorting the next day, and another lesson was needed to change the topics into main idea sentences (the model I gave them was "Learn as much as you can.") are some rules that I think fit better on a different poster, and the "talking rules" makes me cringe because it's not a fantastic main idea sentence, however the class feels a sense of ownership over these rules.  When we had a fire drill today they pointed out that we needed to add to the safety rules.  Having 5 main ideas to focus on, especially when they were all their own ideas is very manageable.  And yet for those "black or white" thinkers, having the sub-rules that help clarify and define the general rules is helpful.  

We still have more work to do such as talking about how it feels when others break the rules that the rest of us are following (using role playing) as well as talking about their rights as students in our class (which will lead into our unit on government and the Constitution).  I have an editable version of our Classroom Rules and Students Rights available.  I hope this introductory lesson works well for your fourth graders! 

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Originally posted on All Things Upper Elementary


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  2. class rules are so boring and many students don't like class rules and I am also a student and I also don't like class rules thanks for posting this and keep it up.


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