Pyramid Diagram


This activity helps students to identify appropriate and important information from a text to be analyzed, and then guides them towards considering implications and effects of this information. They create a four-layer pyramid that can be used as a template for writing a summarizing paragraph. The top layer is a title, below the title is a summary, below the summary is a set of category headers, and on the bottom layer is a set of categorized details.


Catherine Ullman-Shade

Learning Strategies 

  • Connecting
  • Determining Importance
  • Synthesizing
  • Visualizing
Memory Development, Problem Solution

Lesson Plan Stages 

  • Investigation
  • Synthesis

Content Areas 

  • ELA
  • Math
  • Science
  • Social Studies

Common Core Instructional Shifts 

  • Building Knowledge in the Discipline
  • Metacognition


Select the target text. Write a focusing question that will guide students towards identifying the most relevant, interesting, and important information from the text. The answer to the focusing question should be the main idea from the text (or the main idea you want them to learn from this activity). The focusing question should be short, clear, and precise Gather index cards, enough for each student to have a generous pile.

Activity Steps 
  1. Teacher shares the focusing question with the students, and reviews it for understanding.

    Post the focusing question on a board, write it on the top of the students’ reading, or otherwise make it accessible, prominent, and visible throughout the activity.

  2. Teacher distributes index cards and target text.
  3. Students read text. As they read, they look for information that relates to or helps to answer the focusing question. They write each piece of information on a separate index card. Students continue making cards until they are done reading the passage.

    Circulate as students work independently, conferring with them about their work and helping to push their thinking further.

  4. In pairs or individually, students group their index cards in categories. They decide how to label each category with a header.

    Students fill out the bottom row of their blank pyramid diagram with the categorized pieces of information, and the row above the bottom with the category headers

    Circulate and confer with students as they are working. Model and think aloud if necessary.

  5. Teacher guides students in a discussion of what the whole pyramid might be named. What type of information is it? Students write this title in the top of their pyramid diagrams.

    Since the focusing question leads straight to the main idea, the title should be the label for this idea.

  6. In pairs or individually, students summarize the main idea of the passage in a sentence or two. This summary goes in the second layer from the top of the pyramid.

    You may need to model summarizing for students. You should circulate and confer as students create their summaries. This summarizing sentence should concisely answer the focus question.

  7. In pairs or individually, students write a concluding paragraph that answers the focusing question. The topic sentence is the summarizing sentence from the diagram.

    The category labels in the third layer indicate sentences that will back up the topic sentence, while the bottom layer of details provides support for each claim.

    As with any complex task, this should be taught and practiced through a “gradual release” model, where initially the teacher models and thinks aloud, then collaborates with students, and gradually students take on more of the task independently. Eventually students can use this strategy independently to diagram and summarize important information from a passage.

  8. In a discussion or in writing, students reflect on the process of their learning.

    Students should answer questions such as: What process did you use to analyze your reading today? How does the focusing question affect your analysis of information? How does diagramming affect the way you process information? How might this strategy be useful in the future?

Downloadable Resources 
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