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Comprehending the Text

Concept: Main Idea

Definition:

  • Main Idea is the key point denoted by the author about a person or place or thing or idea.
  • The main idea answers the question, “What the author wants to convey to me about the topic?” or “What is the author educating me?”

Example:

Passage:

My cat, Rosy, is the best pet in the world. She comes when I call her. She loves to play and walk with me. Whenever I feel sad, she sits beside me and hugs me too.

Boy

Topic: Rosy, the cat

Supporting sentences :

  • She comes when I call her
  • She loves to play and walk with me.
  • Whenever I feel sad, she sits beside me and hugs me too. My cat, Rosy, is the best pet in the world.

Supporting sentences consists of information that supports the main idea.

Thus the main idea of this paragraph is ‘My cat, Rosy, is the best pet/.’

The supporting details in the paragraph prove the main idea.

  • Authors often mention about the main idea either in the beginning or at the end of a paragraph.
  • The main idea may be specified or implied.
  • Knowing the main idea helps to better understand what you are reading.
  • Why is important to identify the main idea?

  • It is important to determine the main idea as it is a key to understand what you read. The main idea binds the story together. Once you identify the main idea, the rest of the reading is the proof provided to support that main idea.

How to Identify the Main Idea in a Story

  1. Often, the main idea is present is mentioned in the first or last sentence of a short story. However, it is not the scenario always.
  2. Read thoroughly even if you can predict what will happen in the story. You might miss something significant. Pay attention to the title of titles of chapters. After reading, take a pencil and paper ready to note down few important points in the story.
  3. Repetition: Often, the main idea is repeated throughout the story.
  4. Know the Main Character and their problem. Most of the time, there would not be any specific sentence that indicates the main idea. Instead, you'll have to read deeper to find it. Note down the main character or characters , problem and the actions they take to resolve it.
  5. If you can answer the questions below, then you should be able to arrive at the main idea.
  6. Not every ‘Wh’ question will be applicable to a story, but they will provide a clue to extract the main idea

    1. Who –identify the person the story is about
    2. What –identify what the story is about?
    3. When – determine the specific time period of the story
    4. Where –identify the place or setting
    5. Why – Know the reason for what happens in the story

    These questions help readers conclude what the text is about. Who and what are the two most vital questions. It will be sufficient to identify the main idea.

    You as a reader should be able to summarize what you have read in your own words.

  7. Identify supporting details in the story as it will back the main idea.

Example:

Story of a Cuckoo

There once was a bird called Cuckoo who would wake up late every morning. She would then go out of her nest to look for worms. But she didn’t find any. Disappointed she came back to her nest with only one worm. The next morning, all the other birds would wake up early in the morning in search for worms and they would have their fill and return before evening. But this cuckoo woke up late yet again and didn’t find anything to eat.

Boy

Without any food, the cuckoo was very hungry so she promised herself she would wake up early to catch her prey. The following morning, she woke up early and went off with the other birds to find food. She was happy that she found food. Never again would she be hungry again. Now, the cuckoo always wakes up early morning.

Main idea of the above story is: The cuckoo learned a lesson to wake up early.

Common Mistakes

  1. The main idea can change as the story progresses, as there could be more than one main idea.
  2. Do not confuse between the main idea and a summary. Let us have a look at what is the difference between the main idea and a summary.
Main Idea Summary
The key concept in a story or a passage. Sums up the whole story or a passage in a few sentences.
One sentence. More than one sentence.
Doesn’t include the beginning, middle and end. Includes the beginning, middle and the end in short.
Sometimes found in the passage. The summary must be written in its own words.

Identifying the main idea is a challenge in itself. It is the basic thing that the story is trying to convey. You might infer the main idea from the details available to you. However, do read the story thoroughly to ensure that the main idea you have determined is correct or not.

Let us have a look at the mind map for a quick understanding of the main idea of a story.

Boy
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