Grasping the main idea of a text, television show, or movie is something that many children struggle with regularly. Ultimately, it’s the key to effectively summarizing rather than retelling, and it is crucial for a student’s competency in reading comprehension. It’s also true that identifying the main idea of a fictional text is different from identifying the main idea of a non-fiction text. With a fictional text, we’re often looking for the theme, moral, or lesson. With a non-fiction text, we’re looking to capture the “gist” or “big picture” of the article.
When trying to extract the main idea of a text, I will often ask students who and what the text is about or have them answer the 5 WH questions about a text (i.e who, what, where, when, why). Using graphic organizers or having students visualize what they are reading are all helpful strategies to support identifying the main idea. Students can also make use of the text structure to work backwards toward the main idea. For example, students might identify the central ideas of each subtitled section in a magazine article in order to determine the main idea of the article at large.
This article by Becky L. Spivey, M.Ed. for Super Duper Publications in 2011 outlines many engaging activities parents can use at home with younger and older children to practice this skill.By Brad Hoffman, M.S.Ed.
Board Certified Educational Planner and Learning Specialist
My Learning Springboard, Inc.