Identifying main ideas (PDF, 28 KB)
The purpose of the activity
To distinguish between main ideas and supporting details in a text.
The learners match up paragraphs of a text with a set of summary statements.
Note: The identification of main ideas in a text is a complex process that takes time to learn. It is very important for some adult learners because it is a step towards learning how to summarise and take notes. This activity helps the learners to focus on the key aspects of the text (those that enable the learner to meet the purpose for their reading) rather than being distracted by those that are irrelevant.
The teaching points
- Thinking logically about which main ideas go with which paragraph.
- Reading with a purpose and with purposeful questions in mind.
Copies of a text and a summary sentence for each paragraph in the text.
The guided teaching and learning sequence
1. Choose a text that is reasonably easy for the learners to read and on a subject that is familiar to them. Check the text is well structured. The best texts to use when teaching learners how to select main ideas are those that have clear, topic-based sentences and links between paragraphs, which help the learner to see the flow of ideas.
2. For each paragraph, write a sentence that summarises the main idea of that paragraph. Give each pair or group of learners a set of these summary sentences.
3. Explain to the whole group how you chose the main ideas and produced the summary statements. Model ‘thinking aloud’ while reenacting the process.
4. Ask the learners to work in pairs or small groups and to match each sentence with the appropriate paragraph as they read the text.
5. The learners justify their choices, explaining why they think each statement describes the main idea of a specific paragraph and giving evidence from the text.