Identifying the main idea

Reading and viewing texts involves the reader in gathering information and key ideas and concepts from a text. This requires the reader to understand that texts convey meaning with a main idea being communicated.

To develop students’ understanding and knowledge of how to locate the clues in a text requires explicit teaching of effective reading strategies.

The location and understanding of the main idea of a text requires the reader to generate theories about the content and test this against information found in the text. The understanding of text structures and textual clues assist students in gathering and condensing the information they have read and use this to find and comprehend the main idea.

Activity 1: text detective

Demonstrate how to locate ‘clues’ within a text to assist understanding of the main idea. Select a text to share and use the ‘thinking aloud’ strategy to demonstrate effective reading. This should be undertaken prior to students completing activities to locate the main idea in a text.

Introduce the Become a text detective poster (PDF 233.63KB) and discuss what accomplished readers do when working with texts.

During the demonstration preview the text looking at and noting:

  • title
  • cover
  • topic
  • illustrations or visual (is applicable).


  • text type
  • text topic
  • subject matter
  • expected content.

This can be supported by using 'I wonder ... ' to initially discuss theories of text content. The predictions can be noted on the board and referred to during or after the reading and discussed.

Read the text and have students consider the clues they need to gather to understand the main idea of the text.

Answer the following questions to consider the important clues to understand and locate the main idea.

  • Who?
  • What?
  • Where?
  • When?
  • Why?
  • How?

Discuss how the clues act to identify who or what were involved in particular events. The students need to understand the text contains information that the reader works through and decides what aspects are important to assist them in understanding the key message.

The scaffold Text Detective (PDF 56.42KB) can be modified to suit the learning needs of the students or for the text type.

Pair or group students to work with a selected text giving them opportunities to discuss and clarify various aspects of the text with their partners and group members.

After the completion of the scaffold have pairs and groups feedback to the class. This information can then be placed on a retrieval chart for students to access and use a model for future activities.

The following few example questions can be used to clarify students’ responses:

  • Where did you find that clue?
  • How did you know?
  • Why did you think that was important?
  • What other clues helped you?

The teacher may pose other questions specifically related to the text e.g. characters (narratives), colour selection for illustrations (that relate to and support the main idea), text layout (particularly related to factual texts).

The use of questions to clarify responses enables students to reflect on their selections and understanding of the text and gives the teacher an opportunity to assess and check student understanding.


Australian curriculum

ACELY1660: Interpreting, analysing, evaluating: Use comprehension strategies to build literal and inferred meaning about key events, ideas and information in texts that they listen to, view and read by drawing on growing knowledge of context, text structures and language features.

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