The first strategy that we will discuss is the Strategy for Identifying the Main Idea.  The main idea is what the selection or the story is mostly about.  It sums up the whole story.  It is what you come up with if you were asked to summarize a story in one sentence.

    Introduction to Reading Skills: Identify main idea and supporting details VIDEO

    Introduction to Reading Skills: Main Idea/Topic - Episode 1 VIDEO

    Introduction to Reading Skills: Finding Multiple Main Ideas in the Same Passage VIDEO

    Main Idea is one of the more difficult strategies, yet one of the most important.  Students seem to focus only on the details of the passage and not see the larger picture.  When asked for the Main Idea, students usually respond with a one-word “topic” answer instead of an “idea”, a complete thought, or sentence about the paragraph. This is fine at first, but then the child needs to expand this topic into the main focus of the paragraph.  To do this, ask your child, “What is the passage mostly about” or “What would make a good title (or another title, if one is already given) for the passage?”  These are two other ways a Main Idea question could be asked on a reading activity.  (Note: Every reading passage on the NYS ELA asks a Main Idea question.) 

    Helpful Hints to Identifying the Topic:

    The first thing you must be able to do to get at the main idea of a paragraph is to identify the topic--the subject of the paragraph.  The strategy to identify the topic is simply to ask yourself the question, "What is this paragraph mostlyabout?"  Keep asking yourself that question as you read the paragraph, until the answer to your question becomes clear.  Sometimes you can spot the topic by looking for a word or two that is repeated.  Once you've identified the topic, ask yourself, "What about the topic?  What is it that the author wants me to know about this subject?"

              There are many ways a reading activity will ask for the "Main Idea".  Each time
              you see a question or open-ended question that is phrased like this, you will 
              know it is a main idea question.  It is like this type of strategy comes in many 
             disguises.  Here are several more ways a Main Idea question could be phrased on 
             a reading activity.

    •  Which of the following best expresses the main idea?
    •  A good title for this passage is?
    • This passage gives information about…
    • The most important idea in this story is…
    • Which statement best summarizes the most important idea in the story?
    • What is the best summary? 
    • This story is mostly about…
    •  The central ideal of this selection is…
    • What does this passage show?


     The most important idea in a paragraph is called the main idea. The main idea tells what a paragraph is mostly about.

    • The main idea is sometimes found in the first sentence of a paragraph.
    •  The main idea is sometimes found in the last sentence of a paragraph.
    • The main idea is sometimes not found in any one sentence.  You can figure out the main idea by asking yourself, “What is the most important idea in the paragraph?”

      Strategy for Identifying the Main Idea

    • After you read a story ask yourself, “What is this about?”  Try to sum it up in your head in one sentence.
    •  Don’t confuse one fact with the main idea.  The main idea has to do with everything in the passage.
    •  Scan the selection to make sure that the main idea choice you have chosen is discussed throughout the story.
    • Often, but not always, the first and last sentence will give you a clue to the correct answer. 

     There are several strategies in figuring out the Main Idea of a passage.  Let’s start small with just finding the Main Idea of a paragraph.  First of all, know that sometimes a paragraph can have a “stated” Main Idea sentence written right in the paragraph.  That is why they call it a “stated” Main Idea.  Many times, it is written as the first sentence or topic sentence of a paragraph.  Usually when students are writing, it is suggested that they make their first sentence a Main Idea or “topic” sentence.  The rest of the sentences of the paragraph are the “exciting” or “juicy” details that tell about the topic and support it.  However, sometimes the “stated” Main Idea sentence can be the “grand finale” sentence of the paragraph.  The passage may give all the details first, leading up to the Main Idea sentence.  Sometimes the Main Idea sentence shows up in the middle of the paragraph, with details both before it and after it.

    And…then of course, sometimes, the Main Idea is not “stated” at all.  The paragraph is filled with details and you are left on your own to figure out what the Main Idea is all on your own.  This is called the “unstated” Main Idea situation.  You can now see why this is such a difficult skill.

    So, how can you figure it out?  How will you know if it is a “stated” or “unstated” Main Idea?  One strategy is to look for meaningful words that are repeated in the passage.  I don’t mean words like “is, the, it, a,” etc.  Word that are repeated or synonyms for the words are there for emphasis and the author is trying to get across the Main Idea to you by repetition. 

    For example:  Look at the passage below.  Circle all the words that are repeated throughout the paragraph. Then list them below the paragraph.  Finally, try to string most of the words together to come up with a Main Idea.

    Most everyone knows what a bank is.  People know what a hospital is.  Did you ever hear of a bank in a hospital?  There is such a thing, but there isn’t any money in this bank.  It is called a blood bank.  Blood is kept there until someone in the hospital needs it.

    Repeated words:   know(s), bank, hospital, blood

    Now create a sentence or idea:  What a blood bank in a hospital is.  

    Image result for repeated words


    If you are given a multiple choice, select an answer that is neither too general nor too specific with details.  Yes, it has to be “just right.”  The Main Idea statement must be like the “umbrella” sentence that would include all the rest of the details in the passage.

     Juan loves to play games.  His favorite game is chess because it requires a great deal of thought.  Juan also likes to play less demanding board games that are based mostly on luck.  He prefers Monopoly because it requires luck and skill.  If he is done, Juan likes to play action video games as long as they aren't too violent.

    What is the Main Idea of the above passage?

    1. Juan dislikes violence.
    2. Juan likes to think.
    3. Juan enjoys Monopoly.
    4. Juan enjoys playing games.

    **Correct answer is "d"