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Teaching Tips: Dancing with the StarTs

by Marlene Caroselli
December 13, 2012
photo: ARACELOTA via photopin cc
It's been estimated that 90% of all paragraphs contain the main idea in the opening sentence. This fun exercise, inspired by the popular competition show DANCING WITH THE STARS, divides the class into teams, determined to verify or negate the accuracy of this assertion, in relation to a given passage.

Here's how to CARRIE out the activity and LENgthen the pleasure, while avoiding BRUNO-bombastics.

Find a passage with at least eight paragraphs. Make copies—one for each member of the two groups. Ideally each group will have six-to-eight members. Three students will serve as judges. And two students will be the "stars." If the class has more than 21 students, have the remaining students answer these questions while the other groups are doing their assignments.

  • What is the value of knowing the main idea of a paragraph?
  • Where can the main idea be found?
  • When does it make sense to skim the rest of the paragraph once the main idea has been identified?
  • What kinds of reading material should never be skimmed, but rather should be read very carefully, word for word?
  • What is the advantage of placing the main idea in the first sentence of a paragraph?
  • What is the advantage of placing the main idea in the last sentence of a paragraph?
Have Team 1 read the first four paragraphs and decide, as a team, what is the main idea in each paragraph. They will write their four ideas on flip chart paper.

Have Team 2 read the last four paragraphs and collaborate regarding the main idea for each of their paragraphs. They will also write the four main ideas on chart paper.

Two students (ideally, one boy and one girl) will be "the stars." They will read only the first sentence in each paragraph (the "starts") and will write each one on chart paper. (There will be eight sentences altogether.)

Appoint three judges. (For fun, you could seat them as a panel with the DWTS judges' names in front of each seat.) While they wait for the main ideas to be recorded by the teams and by the stars, the judges can read the passage. They should not be asked to determine what the main ideas are--they should merely read. Have three paddles with numbers on them for each judge to hold up: 5 would mean "barely the same," 8 would mean "close," and 9 or 10 would mean "virtually the same."

Team 1 begins by telling the judges what the first paragraph's main idea is. The "stars" come next. They give their main idea--viz., the start of the paragraph for the first paragraph.

The judges score how well the stars did with their main ideas. If their first-sentence ideas are close to what the teams wrote, after reading the full paragraph, the judges will award an 8. If the two main-idea presentations are not at all alike, the judges must give a 5. And if the two presentations are virtually the same, the scores will be 10.

Continue with the team reports, the stars reports of "starts," and the scoring until all eight paragraphs have been covered.

Depending on the judges' scores, lead a discussion regarding where the main idea is typically found and whether or not students can count on finding it in the first sentence of a paragraph. Continue the discussion, using the answers to questions in Step 1. (If a team worked on these questions, have them provide a report.)

Segue from reading the main idea to using the main idea. Divide the class into three teams and have each develop a one-paragraph letter to one of the three DWTS judges. Use this as the main-idea sentence:

Our class worked a "Dancing with the StarTs" reading exercise.


If you think your students would like the attention, notify the local media of the exercise and the subsequent letters that were written to the actual judges. Here's the address:

Dancing With the Stars
c/o CBS Television City
7800 Beverly Blvd.
Bungalow #1
Los Angeles, CA 90036


And, if the letters are mailed, re-invite the media to do a story about the responses received if and when Len, Carrie Ann, and Bruno reply!

Marlene Caroselli, Ed.D. writes extensively about education topics. Among her books on the subject are 500 CREATIVE CLASSROOM CONCEPTS and THE CRITICAL THINKING TOOL KIT.

© 2012 Marlene Caroselli. Please do not reproduce in any form, electronic or otherwise.


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