How Can I Locate the Main Idea?

Once you can find the topic, you are ready to find the main idea. The main idea is the point of the paragraph. It is the most important thought about the topic.

To figure out the main idea, ask yourself this question: What is being said about the person, thing, or idea (the topic)?

The author can locate the main idea in different places within a paragraph. The main idea is usually a sentence, and it is usually the first sentence. The writer then uses the rest of the paragraph to support the main idea.

Let’s use the paragraph below as an example. First find the topic, then look for the main idea.


  Summer is a wonderful time to spend at West Beach. It is a beach with light-

  colored, soft sand. The coastline goes on for a long way and many people enjoy walking

  along it. Children like to play in the surf and walk along the rocks that are visible at

  low tide. This is a fun beach for people of all ages.

  In this paragraph:   

  • the topic is West Beach

  • the main idea (what the writer is saying about the topic) is that summer is a wonderful time at West Beach


Here is another example: 


             The movie Apollo 13 was a blockbuster for the summer of 1995.

             It is an exciting story about space exploration. In the movie, the astronauts

             get in trouble while they are trying to return to Earth. People in the audience

             are on the edge of their seats waiting to see what happens. What makes it even

             more exciting is that it is a true story. 


     In this paragraph: 

  • the topic is the movie Apollo 13

  • the main idea is in the first sentence: Apollo 13 was a blockbuster for the summer of 1995


While the main idea is usually in the first sentence, the next most common placement is in the last sentence of a paragraph. The author gives supporting information first and then makes the point in the last sentence.

Find the details that support the main idea

Read the paragraph and the main idea for the paragraph. Underline the details that support the main idea.
1.      Main Idea: Frogs eat bugs.

The frog sat on the side of the pond. He was very still. His green color made him hard to see. A bug flew near him. His tongue zipped out, and he gobbled it up. Then the frog was still again. He waited for the next bug.
2.      Main Idea: A new school is being built.

They are building a new school. It is near my house. Every day, I watch the workers. They drive huge tractors. I watch them push a ton of dirt. They have a big crane. It helps them place tall beams. The workers build walls. They are using brick. Every day, it looks more like a school. Mom says I will go there in the fall!
3.      Main Idea: Jon makes a basket.

Jon held the ball in his hands. He bounced it slowly on the ground. Once. Twice. He crouched low and then jumped. The ball flew into the air. Up, up, up, it went. Then down, down, down, into the basket. “Yes!” he yelled. “Nothing but net!”


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