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How to Teach the Main Idea

Updated on February 4, 2013
Marye Audet profile image

Marye Audet-White is an internationally known food writer, food editor for Texas Living, cookbook author, and food blogger.

It is important for your child to be able to read something, whether it is fiction or instructions for building a rocket, and find the main idea. While there are no real “main idea lesson plans” there are guidelines that can help you reach this goal.

So, What Is the Main Idea?

Simply put, the main idea of any piece of writing is the point that the author is trying to make; what the author wants you to come away with. Most children will pick up this skill in the course of their reading. Others, especially those who dislike reading or have trouble with it, may need some extra practice.

Finding the Main Idea

This point will usually be found at the beginning of story stated in a topic sentence. The rest of the sentences in the paragraph will support the topic sentence and give more details about it. Whether the writing is a paragraph or a whole book, the topic sentence will usually sum up the information found therein.

For example, in this article the topic sentence is While there are no real “main idea lesson plans” there are guidelines that can help you reach this goal. This sentence lets you know that the article will be information on teaching the main idea to your children. The rest of the article will relate, in some way, to that sentence.

Did you see the word usually a few sentences above?

Authors write for a variety of audiences from preschool to college level. As the level goes up so does the complexity of the writing and the main idea might not be so easy to find. In a more intricate writing style the main idea may be found in any of the following:

  • Title
  • First sentence
  • Center of a passage
  • Last line

It may also be implied and never stated directly in the book. This is most often true in fiction. When your child learns to identify the main idea in someone else’s writing they will begin to be able to write clearly on their own topics.

used under agreement
used under agreement | Source

The Main Idea of This Article Was:

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Teaching Different Grade Levels to Find the Main Idea

You will want to start simply when creating main idea lesson plans for yours homeschool. As time goes on choose more difficult selections until finding the main idea is almost effortless.

Elementary Students

Elementary students have an easier time finding the main idea in a work of nonfiction. They will often hesitate to speak it for fear of being wrong or because they are unsure. If this is the case ask leading questions to help them along.

  • What is this about?
  • What is the author trying to say?
  • What does the author want you to know?

Young children (preschool through about grade 3) can be taught to find the main idea of a story by illustrating a story that you have read to them. Read a simple short story. Talk with them about the details of the story, encouraging them to share their ideas. Then ask them to draw a picture to illustrate the story.

Another possibility is to ask them to name four facts about the reading that you did. This is especially helpful with science, history, or biography.

As your child gets older you should help him look for the details that support the main idea.

Read a paragraph and have your child write the topic sentence on a piece of paper. Now, have him list the facts that support that sentence that are given in the paragraph.

If you lean more toward being creative you can create a mind map with your child. The main idea will be written on a piece of drawing paper, usually in the center. Draw a circle, square, cloud, or any shape you want around the main idea. Add spokes and on each spoke write a detail from the reading selection that supports what is written in the center.

It takes time to learn to find the main idea. It is an ability that will continue to mature as your child grows and learns more. By using a variety of ways to practice finding the main idea your child will learn how to identify it in many types of communications.

Junior High and High School

Junior High students will usually have to hunt a little harder to find the main idea in their reading, especially in fictional works. Ask questions like:

  • What is the point of the selection?
  • Describe this book in one or two sentences.
  • What did the main character learn?

Have them read the newspaper or a magazine article. Ask them to use a highlighter to mark what they believe the main idea of the article is. Now, have them use another color highlighter to mark the details in the rest of the article that support the main idea.

By High School your child should have a pretty good grasp of how to find the main idea in any type of writing.

Quick Tip

If your child consistently cannot find the main idea or has a lot of trouble finding it, allow him to use a book that is below his reading level. This will allow him to concentrate on the information rather than being challenged by complex sentence structure or words he doesn’t know.

A Short Lesson in Finding the Main Idea

Did You Get the Main Idea?

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Links to Lesson Plans, Worksheets and More

There are a variety of resources to give your child additional practice in finding the main idea of a selection. Some of these are:

  • Interactive computer games
  • Online games
  • Worksheets

There are many ideas and resources for teaching this skill available on the Internet. Many of them are free to use.

  • A to Z - This lesson plan helps students in first and second grades to identify the main idea.
  • EdHelper - A site with a variety of educational worksheets, including a large selection of printables to help you find the main idea.
  • Finding the Main Idea - This site has young students listen to a story and then illustrate the main idea.
  • RHL School- Find the sentence that does not belong.
  • Scholastic - A short lesson for elementary students on finding the main idea.
  • What Sentence Does Not Belong?- Worksheet for older elementary students to help them spot the difference between supporting sentences and those that are irrelevant.


Conventional homeschool curriculum like A Beka, Alpha Omega, and Bob Jones will build this skill into their lessons. You may never notice that your child is learning this skill set. This is an important ability that allows your child to understand and succeed in all of his studies throughout his life.


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    • Darknlovely3436 profile image

      Annie 6 years ago from NewYork

      great hub

    • joanwz profile image

      Joan Whetzel 6 years ago from Katy, Texas

      We're just starting to get ingot this with my oldest granddaughter. Yeah! Great timing.

    • steffsings profile image

      steffsings 6 years ago from Pacific NorthWest

      Great information. Thank you.