How to Find the Main Idea in 4 steps

Manuel Campos


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 author can locate it in different places within a paragraph.

It 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.

Important Concepts to Understand

These are some important concepts to understanding when trying to learn more about the main idea.

  • Topic – whom or what the passage is about
  • Topic Sentence – the sentence in the paragraph that states the main idea
  • Author’s Purpose – what the author wants the reader to understand
  • Theme – a subject or topic that is repeated throughout a text or multiple texts

Questions to Ask Yourself

Ask the following questions to be ale to spot ideas quickly

  • 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?

How to Find Main Ideas

So while this identifying main ideas may come simply and naturally to good readers, It is a three to four steps process.

  1. Read the passage through completely, then try to identify the topic.
  2. Summarize the passage in your own words, try to summarize it in one sentence.
  3. Look at the first and the last sentence of the passage but remember that you can also find the main idea in the second or third sentence.
  4. Look for repetition of ideas when there is so much information.

Useful Expressions to Talk about the Main Idea

These are some useful expression to talk about the main idea :

What’s the main idea of the following text? The main idea is…
The writer explains that:The general idea is… 
What do you think about ____________? My opinion is that the main idea …
What’s your opinion of______________? I consider that the main idea….


Read and think about the following sample paragraphs, in which the main idea sentences are in bold.

Remember that the main idea can be stated or implied.

Paragraph #1

It is often said that lightning never strikes twice in the same place, but this isn’t true. Go ask the forest rangers. Rangers who spend their summers as fire-fighters will tell you that every thundershower brings several bolts of lightning to their lookout stations.

Paragraph #2

Penicillin is one of the greatest of the wonder drugs. It has saved thousands of lives already and will save many more in the future. Unfortunately it has no effect at all on most of the ills of mankind. Penicillin is a very good drug, but it is certainly not a cure-all.

Paragraph #3

All mammals are the same in certain ways. They all have lungs, hair or fur, and the ability to nurse their young.

Paragraph #4

Yellowstone National Park is mainly located in Wyoming, although three percent is located in the state of Montana. The Continental Divide of North America runs diagonally through the southwestern part of the park. The park sits on the Yellowstone Plateau, which is an average elevation of 8,000 feet above sea level. This plateau is bounded on nearly all sides by mountain ranges. There are 290 waterfalls that are at least fifteen feet in the park, the highest being the Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River, which falls 308 feet.

More Information

These are some of the posts that you might find interesting

  1. 3 Stages for Teaching Reading
  2. Top Down and Bottom up Processing
  3. 13 Examples of Post-Reading Activities
  4. 11 Examples of While-Reading Activities
  5. 15 Examples of Pre-Reading Activities
  6. What’s Free voluntary Reading?
  7. Guessing Meaning From Context
Manuel Campos, Docente de Inglés

About manuel Campos

I am Jose Manuel, English professor and creator of, a blog whose mission is to share lessons for those who want to learn and improve their English

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