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Highlighting Strategy to Determine Importance


This activity helps students to closely analyze each line of a text, and to distinguish between those points that are central to the main idea and those that are more peripheral.  A consideration of author intent can provide students with criteria with which to make judgments of importance.  In one version, students highlight important points in one color and unimportant points in another color.  In a more demanding version students highlight main ideas with one color, important details with a second color, and unimportant details with a third color.


Catherine Ullman-Shade

Learning Strategies 

  • Determining Importance
Author's Intent, Interacting with the Text

Lesson Plan Stages 

  • Investigation
  • Launching Into New Content

Content Areas 

  • ELA
  • Math
  • Science
  • Social Studies

Learning Strands 

  • Reading

Common Core Instructional Shifts 

  • Balancing Informative and Literary Texts
  • Staircase of Complexity
  • Text-Based Answers
  • Writing from Sources


Choose a brief target text. Read the text ahead of time. Consider which importance category you’d place each line in, and why. Gather at least two highlighters of two different colors for each student (three highlighters of three different colors if you want to use three categories of information).

Activity Steps 
  1. Teacher models reading a text aloud, using the highlighters to distinguish between varying levels of importance of the text.

    Decide ahead of time if students should be dividing text into two or three levels of importance, and model accordingly. As you model, think aloud about how you are determining importance, including discussion of: -Big ideas that structure the whole passage, or that encompass multiple other ideas -Ideas that repeat -Ideas that support other ideas, or that are examples -Ideas that are included just to maintain attention

  2. In small groups or individually, students read the target text. As they read, they highlight each line of the text according to its level of importance. Students should be able to identify words and lines in the text that justify their importance assignat

    Circulate among the students as they are reading, sitting for several minutes with each one to listen to their thought process, discuss their reading, and push their thinking further. You might ask students to add Post-its on which they write their rationale or justification behind each decision of importance level.

  3. In a group discussion, students consider which lines are most important, and why. Consider sorting the lines/ideas as a group into the varying levels of importance, and discuss the rationale behind each sorting decision. Students are expected to use the t

    Students will learn the most from the discussions about why different pieces of information are or are not important, so be sure to ask students to defend and back up their categorization decisions.

  4. Students engage in a reflection activity, considering what they learned and how they learned it.

    Guide students to reflect on the process of their learning, either individually or in groups, in writing or orally. They should respond to the following questions: What did you learn? How did sorting according to importance affect your learning? What other strategies did you use?

Downloadable Resources 
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