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Main Idea

Grade 11
Sep 7, 2022

What is the main idea of a paragraph?  

A main idea is the most important sentence in a paragraph. Sometimes referred to as a focus sentence, the main idea helps organize the paragraph by summarizing the information in the paragraph. The main idea is usually the first sentence in a paragraph (although it doesn’t have to be).  

Paragraphs usually have 2 types of sentences:  

  1. The main idea 
  2. One or more detailed sentences that support, prove, provide more information, explain, or give examples for the main idea. 

The main ideas from different paragraphs in the comprehension passage connect to a thesis statement. Every paragraphs has two parts: a main idea (what the paragraph is about) and a controlling idea (the direction the paragraph will take or supporting ideas). The main idea tells the audience what the paragraph will be about and all the supporting and controlling ideas. 

Significance of the main idea of a passage  

The main idea of a paragraph is the primary point or concept that the author wants to communicate to the readers about the topic. Hence, in a paragraph, when the main idea is stated directly, it is expressed in what is called the topic sentence. Main idea gives the overarching idea of what the paragraph is about and is supported by the details in subsequent sentences in the paragraph 

Implied main idea 

When an author does not state the main idea directly, it should still be impliedand is called an implied main idea. 


1. To identify the main idea, the reader looks closely at the content: 

  • At specific words, sentences 
  • Images that are used and repeated—to deduce what the author is communicating. 

2. Why knowing the main idea of the passage is important: 

  • Finding the main idea is critical to understanding what you are reading.  
  • It helps the details make sense and have relevance. 
  • It provides a framework for remembering the content.  

Tips to identify the main idea of a passage.  

There are 4 effective ways to identify the main idea of a passage. 

1. Read the passage then try to identify the main idea. 

What is the paragraph about?  


2. Summarize the Passage 

3. After reading the passage summarize it in your own words in one sentence.  

4. Look for Repetition of Ideas 

Start looking for repeated words, phrases, or related ideas.   

Mistakes to be avoided while identifying the main idea in a passage: 

Choosing a main idea from a set of answer choices is different than composing a main idea on your own. 

Reading the passage thoroughly, using the skills, and identifying the main idea seems easy, but 3 common mistakes should be avoided, namely: 

  1. Selecting a main idea that is too narrow in scope;  
  2. Selecting a main idea that is too broad;  
  3. Selecting a main idea that is complex but contrary to the controlling ideas of the passage.  

Features of the main idea in a paragraph. 

  1. The main idea expresses the theme of the paragraph. 
  2. The main idea usually states a definite opinion or idea. 
  3. The main idea provides the reader with a clear understanding of what a paragraph is going to be about. 
  4. The main idea gives direction to the paragraph that both the reader and writer can follow. 
  5. The main idea often begins a paragraph or is found near the beginning of the paragraph. 
  6. Other sentences within a paragraph relate to the main idea. 
  7. The final “wrap-up” sentence within a paragraph often reinforces the main idea. 

The main idea of a passage is important 

  • The reader is kept focused through the arguments of the paragraph. 
  • In a comprehension passage, each paragraph focuses on a single idea.  
  • The main idea in the opening sentence clarifies what the paragraph is about. 
  • It gives a clear sense of what to expect from the paragraph, 

To find the stated main idea what should be done? 

1. Read the text of a passage  

Ask this question to yourself: “What is this passage mostly about?” 

Try stating in your own words, explain the answer in one short sentence. 


  • Do not include details or examples from the text.  
  • Do not extend your idea beyond what is written in the text, even if you know a ton about the topic. It does not matter for this exercise.  
  • Look for a sentence in the text that most closely fits with your brief summary. 

 How to find the implied main idea in a paragraph: 

  • Read the text of the passage. 
  • Ask this question to yourself: “What do each of the details of the passage have in common?” 
  • In your own words, find the common bond among all the details of the passage and the author’s point about this bond. 
  • Compose a short sentence stating the bond and what the author says about the bond. 

Purpose of an effective main idea in a paragraph 

An effective main idea: 

  • Informs the reader of the subject that will be discussed in the paragraph. 
  • Asserts the writer’s point of view or attitude. 
  • Intrigues the reader to continue reading. 
  • Creates a sense of action. 
  • Is not vague, rambling, too narrow, or too broad. 

Way to identify the main idea in a paragraph. 

After reading a paragraph, ask, “What point is the author making in this passage?” 

Ask the following questions: 

  • Who – Does this passage discuss a person or group of people? 
  • When – Does the information contain a reference to time? 
  • Where – Does the text name a place? 
  • Why – Do you find a reason or explanation for something that happened? 
  • How – Does this information indicate a method or a theory? 

Exercise 1 

1. Read the following paragraph and choose the main idea from the choices: 

Before clocks were made, people kept track of time by other means. In ancient Egypt, people used a water clock. Water dripped slowly from one clay pot into another. People measured time according to how long it took one pot to empty and the other one to fill. Candle clocks were common during the Middle Ages. As such, when a candle burned, marks on its side showed how much time had passed. A final ancient way to measure time was the sundial, which used the movement of the sun across the sky. The shadows moving across the face of the sundial showed the current time. 

What is the main idea? 

  1. As such, when a candle burned, marks on its side showed how much time had passed. 
  2. Before clocks were made, people kept track by other means. 
  3. In ancient Egypt, people used a water clock. 
  4. All the above. 

Here is the answer!!! 

The main idea of the passage is – Before clocks were made, people kept track by other means. 

Exercise 2 

2. Read the following paragraph and choose the main idea from the choices: 

Basketball was invented in 1891 by a physical education instructor in Springfield, Massachusetts, by the name of James Naismith. Because of the terrible weather in winter, his physical education students were indoors rather than outdoors. They really did not like the idea of boring, repetitive exercises and preferred the excitement and challenge of a game. Naismith figured out a team sport that could be played indoors on a gymnasium floor, that involved a lot of running, that kept all team members involved, and that did not allow the tackling and physical contact of American-style football.  

What is the main idea of the passage? 

  1. The life of James Naismith 
  2. The history of sports 
  3. Physical education and exercise  
  4. The origin of basketball 

Here is the answer!!! 

The main idea of the passage is – The origin of basketball 


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