Beacon Lesson Plan Library

How Close Can We Get?

Shannon Nower
Lee County School District


Students guide themselves through the traditional outline structure by reassembling papers, which have been cut into separate sentences. Students then see “how close they've come” to the original paper and evaluate their achievement.


The student determines the main idea and identifies relevant details, methods of development, and their effectiveness in a variety of types of written material.


-One large pizza box per group should contain:
1. Instructions for the activity (see associated file)
2. A laminated and enlarged picture of a pizza taped to the outside of the box lid
3. One gallon Ziploc bag
4. One article cut apart by sentences
5. One pack of breathmints
6. Copies of a search-a-word or crossword puzzle on outline terminology and pizza toppings for each member (see associated file)
-One copy of each essay or article in its original
-A transparency or poster (see Teacher Preparation)
-A music clip and player for Queen's -We are the Champions-
-Red and green colored pencils for each student


1. Assemble one pizza box per group.
2. Assemble one gallon baggie per group:
Select a well-written article or paper, cut it into strips by sentence, and affix each strip to a piece of felt backing. Place these in a gallon bag. Make sure that it is not obvious from the cutting what goes where, otherwise, it’s just a jigsaw puzzle!
3. Prepare and label manila envelopes with copies of original essays. Keep these somewhere safe.
4. Create a transparency or overhead which separates your students into groups of five. This will be used as a seating chart.
5. Write in each of the group members' names as a slice on the pizza reproducible, and tape the group's pizza ditto to their own pizza box (If you have multiple periods, you may want to skip this customization and simply use the seating overhead to make these marks.).
6. Prepare music in player.
7. Prepare materials as follows:
-One large pizza box per group should contain:
1. Instructions for the activity laminated and taped to the inside bottom of the box
2. A laminated and enlarged picture of a pizza (with each of the five group members’ names written in overhead marker on a slice) taped to the outside of the box lid
3. One gallon Ziploc bag containing a paper or article cut up with each sentence affixed on a strip of felt.
4. The inside of the lid of the box covered in felt
5. One pack of breathmints labeled “For Pleasant Conversation- :)
6. Copies of a search-a-word or crossword puzzle on outline terminology and pizza toppings for each member of the group for use if the group finishes early
-One copy of each essay or article in its original, intact, form
and kept, by title, in labelled manila envelopes in a safe place
-A transparency or poster with seating arrangements and group titles like Pepperoni, Extra Cheese, Peppers, Supremes, Anchovies, Pineapple, etc.) and with space for how many times the group has "delivered" incorrectly.


Pre-Planning: The day before this activity, teacher reviews expectations for group work and informs students how to find their seats the next day. Students should be familiar with outline format or it needs to be quickly reviewed prior to the assessment.

1. Students find their seats (overhead projection of seating arrangements, student names, and group names).

2. Ask a student volunteer to refresh class' memory as to what a "main idea" is and how it is useful. (Use sheets in associated file)
*Note: If necessary, teacher may suggest that main idea and thesis are the same thing, only a thesis has a highly specific location and argues about something, while a main idea is usually a little less controversial.

3. Write the definition of "main idea" on overhead using students' definition. Repeat process for the term "outline."

4. Ask students how a main idea relates to the term outline.

5. Write the relationship students came up with on the board under the two terms.

6. Make analogy of main idea and outline to a pizza. State: You want a pepperoni pizza (main idea) and it should be put together in a reasonable order. Can you imagine getting Pizza the Hut (reference to the creature from Spaceballs) at your door if the pizza was put together as a blob of ingredients and not well-ordered? (Fill out outline-crust, sauce, cheese, ingredient, etc!). A paper can be like that too.

7. Stress objective for the day: learn to logically order a paper; Why? It'll help you learn to create ordered work of your own. Why have to revise "a million" editing comments from your teacher about disorganization, when you could get it done in one or two tries? That way, in real life, you have the time to go out for pizza with your buddies instead of staying up all alone trying to REASSEMBLE a Pizza-the-Hut paper!

8. Give student groups five minutes to read over directions in their pizza boxes.

9. Answer any questions about the process for the next minute. "Any more questions?" if not, "Ladies and gentlemen, put together your pizzas!"

10. Students use the next thirty minutes to complete the activity. As they get their "deliveries" (reassembled papers) ready for teacher inspection, the students will send a delivery person up to the teacher. Each time the paper's even one sentence away from correct order, the teacher marks a "strike" on the poster/overhead. The group which solves their paper the fastest and with the least strikes (out of all periods) might get a reward. Some ideas: permission to hold a private pizza party the next day at lunch (they pay, delivery, your room, monitored by you and another teacher), individual bags of pizza-flavor Combos, scratch-and-sniff pizza-scented stickers, or perhaps even a simple five bonus points each on next test.

10. Up the ante - As pressure to finish builds around the last five minutes of the activity, remind students of expectations. Bonus points may be applied for groups working exceptionally well.

11. Proclaim the winner to be the first group that finishes within time (or you may continue activity next day) or comes closest and play "We are the Champions" as they step to the front of the room to revel in their glory.

12. Groups clean up their areas and disassemble their essay.

13. Play "We are the Champions" for the entire class because they are all champions having completed this task that (and yes, this is an exaggeration) that you do not believe any freshmen COLLEGE class could do!

14. Share the pages in the associated file about main idea and details with students. Read them aloud and discuss. Bring closure by discussing: What did we learn today about main idea and details. How about group work? Comments? Suggestions for next time we do the activity?


Other than completion of the reassembling task, give students this formative assessment: Have each student fill out an outline form (attched file); allow them to use their reassembled products to do so. Red pencils should be used to fill in the main idea/thesis, topic sentences in green, and detail points/summaries of the sentences in each paragraph in regular pencil. On the reverse side of the sheet, students should answer, in paragraph-complete-with-main-idea form, the question, "How do main idea and supporting details make a piece of writing effective? Is this paper effective? Why or why not?"
NOTE: This assessment doesn't address methods of development and only uses one text per group. Please see the Extensions section of this lessons for ideas on using multiple student-generated texts


This activity could be modifed to use an an editing activity to fit essays written by the class' current students (anonymous papers, of course). By changing the activity to a student-supplied pizza box kit, cut up essay and original, etc., and a "swap" with another student, students could get feedback as to the current effectiveness of their papers. One such benefit would be the students would be able to easily see which sentences in their papers are are irrelevant details because a reassembling would leave them out.

Web Links

A Tutorial on Finding Main Idea can be found here.
Main Idea

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