Locating and understanding the main idea requires the reader to actively seek answers to What is this about? Giving students opportunities to locate and identify the main idea or key message requires engagement in purposeful reading and viewing of a variety of texts.
Defining the main idea requires the reader to consider what the author or creator of a piece of text wants the reader to remember and consider afterwards. Once students can identify key ideas (Stage 1 main idea strategy) and rank them (Stage 2 main idea strategy) they will be able to identify the main idea in simple texts. When a text is longer and more complex it might incorporate several different ideas that might either be peripheral to the main idea or might contribute to the main idea. When trying to identify the main idea students need to ensure they are not overwhelmed by many ideas or distracted by irrelevant ideas. It is therefore helpful to group ideas and compare and contrast the importance of these ideas.
Activity 1: the idea pyramid
Provide students with the idea pyramid template and a text. Students can work in pairs or groups to discuss and decide what key words carry significant meaning when embedded within the text. This gives the students an opportunity to clarify their understanding of the vocabulary within the text and test their theories of the main idea the text is trying to convey. This template can also be used with narrative texts.
Activity 2: mind mapping
Model for students how to highlight key ideas in a text and then record these one at a time on a mind map by grouping similar ideas and drawing lines between to show connections. Guide students in pairs or threes to highlight key ideas in a text (or make notes to summarise the key ideas in a longer text) and then ask them to group similar ideas using a mind map. Individually students can then consider whether ideas reinforce each other or if some groups of ideas are more important than others. Have students return to their partner or group and justify or amend their decision about the main idea.
Reading comprehension – How to find the main idea in text
Australian curriculum – ACELY1713: Interpreting, analysing, evaluating: Use comprehension strategies to interpret and analyse information and ideas, comparing content from a variety of textual sources including media and digital texts.
NSW syllabus – EN3-3A: summarise a text and evaluate the intended message or theme.
NSW literacy continuum – Comprehension, Cluster 11, Marker 6: Critically analyses and interprets a text to create a summary that demonstrates an understanding of the different views and values represented.