Reading Comprehension – Identifying Main Idea


This exercise tasks students with identifying the main idea in each of ten paragraphs of an article on friendship by choosing among three possibilities.  Each paragraph’s three choices include one that is too general, one that is too specific, and one that is “just right”.  These examples clarify for students which details and to what extent of detail manifest the main message conveyed in content.  Because the article discusses the author’s relationship with a friend, students are able to relate to the content and thereby can better understand the contained messages.

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Identifying Main Idea

I had always found teaching students how to identify main ideas particularly difficult, until I discovered that providing them with examples works best.  Here, I break down the non-fiction article “Friend” by Marjorie Ingall into its ten paragraphs.  For each paragraph, students are given three choices for the main idea.  One choice is too general, one is too specific, and one is “just right”.  In this way, students can discover (often through discussion) how the “too general” choice may be true, but is not specific enough to convey the author’s intended message; how the “too specific” choice includes extraneous details that are not needed to convey the message; and how the “just right” choice clearly encapsulates the message.  In future sessions when my students are tasked with independently identifying main ideas of new content, we can discuss how their guesses may be too general or too specific, and they are then able to make adjustments until they arrive at an accurate statement of the main idea.