Main idea-"Butterflies"

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Text of “Butterflies.” (Included below) Project on LCD or Smartboard if possible. Students need pencil and reader's workshop or language notebooks.


Place the story below on a Smartboard, LCD, blackboard or white board for students to see. Note: The text is presented below as a block paragraph. When you recopy this text, make sure to format correctly for paragraph and dialogue.

“Butterflies,” by Patricia Grace, Electric City and Other Stories, Penguin Books, New Zealand. 1987

The grandmother plaited her granddaughter’s hair and then she said, ‘Get your lunch. Put it in your bag. Get your apple. You come straight back after school, straight home here. Listen to the teacher,’ she said, ‘Do what she say.’ Her grandfather was out on the step. He walked down the path with her and out onto the footpath. He said to a neighbor, ‘Our granddaughter goes to school. She live with us now.’ ‘She’s fine,’ the neighbor said. ‘She’s terrific with her two plaits in her hair.” “And clever,’ the grandfather said. ‘Writes every day in her book.’ ‘She’s fine,’ the neighbor said. The grandfather waited with his granddaughter by the crossing and then he said, ‘Go to school. Listen to the teacher. Do what she say.’ When the granddaughter came home from school her grandfather was hoeing round the cabbages. Her grandmother was picking beans. They stopped their work. ‘You bring your book home?’ the grandmother asked. ‘Yes.’ ‘You write your story?’ ‘Yes.” ‘What’s your story?’ ‘About the butterflies.’ ‘Get your book then. Read your story.’ The granddaughter took her book from her schoolbag and opened it. ‘I killed all the butterflies,’ she read. ‘This is me and this is all the butterflies.’ ‘And your teacher like your story, did she?’ ‘She said butterflies are beautiful creatures. They hatch out and fly in the sun. The butterflies visit all the pretty flowers, she said. They lay their eggs and then they die. You don’t kill butterflies, that’s what she said.

The grandmother and grandfather were quiet for a long time, and their granddaughter, holding the book, stood quite still in the warm garden. ‘Because you see,’ the grandfather said, ‘your teacher, she buy all her cabbages from the supermarket and that’s why.’


—Review main idea (too broad, too narrow, just right). Main idea can be, “the thing that gets talked about the most,” or it can be, “the meaning the author wants to communicate.” —Display Think-Along, “Butterflies.”

Main Idea: The point of the story; what the author wants you to learn. Main idea can also be the dominant idea, the subject matter that is most often repeated or developed.

Main ideas can be too broad, too narrow, or just right.

—Have the students read “Butterflies” silently. —Read the selection aloud. —“What is the main idea of “Butterflies?” Write down the main idea in your notebook. —Check to see if every student has written down something. —Have students pair and share to discuss the main idea. —Based on their discussions with peers, students can add to their own main idea statement. —Group sharing. —Can you think of a good way to practice what you’ve learned today? One idea is to have students draw a picture based on the story, and to write out their main idea clearly. Include the concept main idea. Have students write a definition of main idea to reinforce this important reading skill.

Control Of Error

The teacher needs to check student notebooks.

Points Of Interest

"Butterflies" is a thought-provoking piece. Students' perception of main idea can have a fairly wide range, and still be acceptable. Careful readers will notice that this selection involves a clash of cultures: rural and city, even black and white. Butterflies, to a farmer, are pests that destroy crops, but to a city dweller, they have a romantic quality that symbolizes beauty and change.


The purpose of this lesson is to reinforce student understanding of main idea.


"Butterflies" can also be used as a think-along. Format the poem on the left side, leaving the right hand side of the page open for comment. As the student reads each paragraph or section, she comments on the right. Comments can be about subject matter, "Her grandparents are strict," or language, "When she says, 'do what she say' it's dialect," character, "The teacher thinks it's wrong to kill butterflies," or some other comment the student has. Think-alongs can be a great way to teach children to respond to literature.