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How to Identify the Main Idea in a Story if You Are in Elementary School

by Patti Richards

Identifying the main idea of a story helps students interpret what an author is trying to say through his or her writing. Mapping the details of the story and learning how the details support the main idea help clarify where and when the story takes place, who the main characters are, and what their function is in the story. Identifying the main idea of the story is one of the fundamentals of literacy.

Read the title of the passage or paragraph your teacher has asked you to read. Based on the title, make some predictions about what you think the passage or paragraph is going to be about. Write your predictions down on a piece of paper so you can refer back to them while reading.

Look at the first part of the material your teacher has asked you to read. This could be the first sentence of a paragraph, first paragraph in a passage, or first chapter of a book.

Read the words in this first part of the passage and try to identify the topic of the passage. For example, in most paragraphs, the topic sentence is usually the first sentence. This sentence or group of sentences lets the reader know what the passage is going to be about. This is especially true in nonfiction pieces.

Write down some of the details that support the topic sentence of the paragraph or passage you have been asked to read. The supporting details are what make the topic sentence true or provide important information about the topic.

Re-read the notes you have taken, starting with the predictions you made. Then read the topic or topic sentence you wrote down and the supporting details you found. Look at all the information and decide what the main idea of the passage is based on the details and predictions you have made.


  • Mark the things you think might help you decide on the main idea by placing sticky notes next to important words or details as you are reading. Then you can go back to your sticky notes and write down the details you want to use.

About the Author

Patti Richards has been a writer since 1990. She writes children’s books and articles on parenting, women's health and education. Her credits include San Diego Family Magazine, Metro Parent Magazine, Boys' Quest Magazine and many others. Richards has a Bachelor of Science in English/secondary education from Welch College.

Photo Credits

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