Determining Main Idea


    Determining the Main Idea

    A good author puts sentences about the same idea together in one paragraph. The author uses details to explain the idea or gives examples to make the idea clearer. When ideas are presented in this orderly way, it is easier to understand what the author is saying.

    A good reader learns to decide what the main idea is in a paragraph. When you know that, you are able to understand and remember what you read.

    How Do You Find the Main Idea?

    The topic of a paragraph is the one thing that all or most of the sentences in a good paragraph tell about. The main idea is a sentence that sums up what the other sentences in the paragraph are telling about the topic.

    When you read a paragraph, look for a sentence that sums up what all the sentences say about the topic. Read the following paragraph. Then find the sentence that states the main idea.

    People keep some strange kinds of animals as pets. Several people have owned monkeys, chickens, turtles, and even snakes. Even a few brave souls have owned alligators and tigers. More often people own strange birds, such as the owl. Some pet lovers have tamed foxes, deer, and lizards.

    • What is the topic of the paragraph?
    • Which sentence states the main idea? Did this sentence sum up the facts that were given in the other sentences?

    When the main idea is stated in a paragraph, that sentence is most often found at the beginning or end. However it may also be in the middle of the paragraph. In fact, sometimes the main idea is not stated at all. When this happens, you must make up a sentence that sums up what all the sentences are about. These steps will help you to decide what the main idea is.


    When the Main Idea is not Stated

    1. Find the topic. Do this by deciding what all or most of the sentences tell about.
    2. Think about the way in which all of the sentences go together. Decide what one idea ties all the sentences together.
    3. Then make up a main idea sentence that sums up what all the sentences are telling about the topic.

    Long ago, people built their homes from the wood and bark of trees. They used wood to build boats and canoes. Today, people build houses, furniture, and many other things out of wood. Newspapers and books are printed on paper made from trees. Wood is also used for making things that were not even thought of in earlier days, such as plastic. The plastic comb you use may have started as part of a tree.

    • What is the topic?
    • Think about the facts that are given.
    • What main idea sums up the paragraph?