Lesson plan

Tip of the Iceberg: Nonfiction Summary Details

Capture the tip of the iceberg! Use this lesson plan to teach your students to summarize nonfiction texts by noting the “tip of the iceberg,” also known as the main idea. Students will identify and sequence them.
Need extra help for EL students? Try the Main Idea and Details in Nonfiction Texts pre-lesson.
EL Adjustments
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Need extra help for EL students? Try the Main Idea and Details in Nonfiction Texts pre-lesson.

Students will be able to summarize key details of nonfiction texts.

The adjustment to the whole group lesson is a modification to differentiate for children who are English learners.
EL adjustments
(5 minutes)
  • Write the idiom "tip of the iceberg" on the board. Explain how idioms are synonyms for ideas.
  • Have students turn and tell a neighbor what they think "tip of the iceberg" means.
  • Invite students to share out their ideas with the whole class. While they are sharing, draw a sketch of a series of four icebergs with their tips showing just above a waterline. Discuss and draw any figurative student connections.
  • Clarify for your class that if something is the tip of the iceberg, it's the main idea of a larger amount of information.
  • Explain how a detail provides more precise information about an idea.
  • Add that summarizing texts is like capturing a series of iceberg tips of a text, from beginning to end. Tips of the icebergs for today's assignment are main ideas, not details!
(5 minutes)
  • Demonstrate the following paper constructions:
    • Fold a white paper strip, twice, into a ¼-sized rectangle.
    • Trim the rectangle into mountains such that it opens into four mountains linked together, accordion style.
    • Glue the white strip (mountains) onto a blue paper strip so that only the four iceberg tips show.
  • Preview a nonfiction text for your students by identifying four main ideas: one opening, two middle, and one conclusion.
  • Write each main idea on an iceberg in order from beginning to end, left to right.
  • Flip the construction over and write, "(text title): Tips of the Icebergs" along with student name and date.
  • Review the construction and answer clarifying questions.
(10 minutes)
  • Using one paper strip each (white and blue), scissors and glue, demonstrate how to cut and assemble the iceberg cutouts and pasting process.
  • Preview a nonfiction text with your class by doing a picture walk and noting four main ideas on your teacher iceberg model.
(10 minutes)
  • Provide nonfiction texts to your students along with additional paper strips and glue for constructions.
  • Answer any procedural questions and have your students complete their assignment.


  • During independent work time, assist students with cutting and gluing as needed. Staplers work as a substitute for glue and can be less messy.
  • Provide leveled nonfiction texts differentiated for your students to select for analysis.


  • Have students provide additional details for each main ideas below each iceberg.
  • News ELA is great online source for differentiated nonfiction texts on current news events. This would be a great resource for text to access in real time or printouts for student analysis. See suggested media for web details.
(5 minutes)
  • Draft a numbered list of three sentences:
    • Two potential main ideas
    • One detail (but not a main idea)
  • Have your students tell you which two points are main ideas, which is not, and why.
(10 minutes)
  • Discuss: What perspectives are most powerful in nonfiction texts we've reviewed in class today?

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