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How to Help Your Child Find the Main Idea in a Paragraph

Steps to Finding the Main Idea


Sometimes children, as well as adults, find that their comprehension moves along smoothly as long as they’re reading material that is of interest. For example, when my son was in third grade, his average standardized reading scores suddenly shot up that year. His current teacher didn’t seem to be teaching differently. And then I noticed his intent perusal of his favorite baseball cards. An avid collector of these cards, he read and reread the stats on the backs of all his cards. This interest had blossomed sometime around the beginning of third grade. The additional reading had a positive impact on his comprehension. He appeared to have no difficulty in reading this information.

However, I noticed as he studied his social studies or science chapters, the interest waned, and so did the comprehension. We all know that children---and adults---frequently find themselves in situations that require them to comprehend text that may not be particularly exciting, even boring. In that case, following certain steps can help the reader find the main idea, thus improving comprehension. These strategies work for students of any age or reading level. If a parent or tutor is helping an elementary, middle, or high school student work through this process, the tutor or parent should guide the student through each step the first few times. It may take some time for the student to work independently to find the main idea. This strategy is the heart of reading comprehension and is the most important strategy a reader needs for effective comprehension. The steps for finding main idea is easy to follow.

1. Find the Topic. The first question a reader asks is who or what is this selection about. That answer is the topic.

2. What’s the Point? The next question the reader asks is what point the author is making about the topic. This question is similar to the way a listener might ask a speaker in a conversation, “What’s the point? What are you trying to say?”

3. Find a General Statement that expresses the point of the paragraph. For example, a general term might be animal---specific=dog, cat, bird. When the student understands the concept of general and specific words, he or she can better find a general statement in the paragraph. Note: In textbooks the topic sentence is usually the first sentence in the paragraph.

4. Ask--Do all, or most, of the sentences in the paragraph support or discuss the idea that’s in that general statement. If so, that sentence is probably the main idea.

5. List words--In textbooks the topic sentence/main idea will often have list words that indicate a list is coming. Note: All topic sentences do not have list words, but when you see list words in a sentence, you probably have a main idea.

Example: There are several reasons why the rainfall is heavier in that particular area.

Students who look for the main idea as they read improve overall comprehension and are better prepared for tests. Most test questions can be answered correctly if students understand the main ideas and major supporting details of a selection. Although younger students may need considerable guidance in practicing these strategies, the practice can become a habit and one of the most effective study tools to use throughout life.

Main Idea


Nancy McLendon Scott (author) from Georgia on April 07, 2014:

I am going to try to give you a call in the next day or two. I think I still have your number. I enjoyed our conversation so much last summer.....

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Nancy McLendon Scott (author) from Georgia on April 07, 2014:

Thank you! I appreciate your thoughtful comment. Let me know if this works well for you.

Billie Kelpin from Newport Beach on January 16, 2013:

Excellent. I agree with teaches12345 that this article is of benefit to all levels of students. It also pertains to the "reverse" skill of writing with a thesis and supporting statements. Finding the main idea is an important skill that helps students in state standardized reading comprehension tests as well. It actually helps all of us in forcing us to clear and logical comprehension of ideas and expression of those ideas as well. This is a great article for homeschoolers! So looking forward to reading all your hubs.

Nancy McLendon Scott (author) from Georgia on January 16, 2013:

Thank you---I taught this strategy to college students but it works well for younger students as well. The younger ones have to be guided through the process.

english-zone on January 16, 2013:

Teaching a child is not easy but I will consider to the steps you have given... nice hub!

Nancy McLendon Scott (author) from Georgia on January 15, 2013:

Thanks! I taught reading comprehension to college students and used this process with them. I wasn't sure how to post this hub for all ages. I'm fixing the "comments" capsule on the bug hub now----I appreciate your suggestions....thanks again.

Dianna Mendez on January 14, 2013:

Your instructions for finding the the main idea to a paragraph is excellent. I think this would help even my college students! Very useful topic. I read your "rid your home of bugs" hub. Very useful as well. We live in Florida and have bug problems year round. As you mentioned, we have the home sprayed and it works, but now I will also use the boric acid. Thanks. (by the way, your bug post does not have a place for comments.)

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