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How to find the main idea

Do you find that your students have a difficult time finding the main idea of a text?
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Do you find that your students have a difficult time finding the main idea of a text? Sometimes students struggle to locate the main idea because they do not know how. Other students simply do not have the confidence to believe they can actually find the main idea.

As a teacher, you have to continuously remind them that the main idea is the primary reason why a story was written. After the students are able to define “main idea”, they need to learn some strategies that will assist them in finding the main idea of what they have read.

How to find the main idea

  • Locate the topic
  • Find out what the author is saying about the topic
  • Pay attention to anything that is repeated
  • Look at pictures and captions
  • Ask what each paragraph is about
  • Look at bold, italicized, and underlined words (bullets and numbering help as well)
  • Ask who, what, when, where, why, or how?
  • Pay attention to the title of the story or boldfaced headings
  • Read the first and last sentences of a paragraph
  • Check the conclusion paragraph

After the students can explain ways of finding the main idea, have them practice summarizing what they have read. Perhaps you could have them trace their hand, which is a type of graphic organizer.

Next, have the students put the topic of the story inside the thumb. Then, ask them to write the main idea inside the palm. After that, have the students write the supporting details in the other fingers. Finally, have them gather all of the information from that graphic organizer and write a summary of the text in their own words.

Practice activity

Directions: Have the students read the poem, “Mother to Son” by Langston Hughes. Provide questions for them to answer about the poem. This will strengthen their comprehension of the poem. Then ask them to find the main idea of the poem.

Mother to Son

Well, son, I’ll tell you:

Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.

It’s had tacks in it,

And splinters,

And boards torn up,

And places with no carpet on the floor—


But all the time

I’se been a-climbin’ on,

And reachin’ landin’s,

And turnin’ corners,

And sometimes goin’ in the dark

Where there ain’t been no light.

So boy, don’t you turn back.

Don’t you set down on the steps

’Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.

Don’t you fall now—

For I’se still goin’, honey,

I’se still climbin’,

And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.


In the poem, “Mother to Son” by Hughes, a mother is explaining to her son that although life hasn't been easy for her, she never gives up. She describes her life as being filled with tacks, splinters, and dilapidated boards. Nevertheless, this mother states that though her life is unlike a crystal stair, she perseveres. She is having this conversation with her son because she obviously wants him to a determined individual. This is why she admonishes him not to turn back or fall. That is what the poem is about.

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