Main and Supporting Ideas
Often we will be given a passage on a test or homework assignment that we have to read and “analyze” to find the main point or supporting points.
This can be difficult or easy, depending on the passage, so let’s go over some general rules to keep in mind while reading.
The main idea(s) in a passage are usually located in the first paragraph or two of text. Having the main idea(s) near the beginning of the passage allows the author to grab the reader’s attention and let him or her know what the rest of the passage will discuss. To find the main idea(s) in a passage, the reader should ask questions while reading, such as “What is this passage about? What does the author want the reader to know about the topic?” The supporting details will provide evidence that the main idea(s) is/are correct. Supporting details are found in the body of a passage. The supporting details often provide examples of the main idea. For example, a passage may contain the main idea: “Ellis Island was the entry-point to America for many immigrants during the Industrial Revolution.” A supporting detail for this main idea may be “Immigrants were examined for contagious diseases at Ellis Island before being granted entry to America.”
Determine the main idea that the following sentence tells the reader. Indicate what details support the main idea.
“Her breath billowed out in clouds of white and disappeared into the quiet air.”
The main idea is what the author wants the reader to understand about the text, with details to help to explain or support it. A main idea usually states the point of an entire essay, article, or book, but a main idea can be simply stated in one sentence. The main idea in our example, is that a girl is outside in the cold. Details to support this include the word ‘her’, showing that the character is a girl, and ‘clouds of white’, which indicate that the air is cold. In order to conclude that the girl is out in the cold, the reader needs to understand that breath can be seen when the air is cold.
Try one yourself, this time let’s use an excerpt from a book.
He told me at this time that if anything should happen to him he wished me to take charge of his estate, and he gave me a key to a compartment in the safe which stood in his study, telling me I would find his will there and some personal instructions which he had me pledge myself to carry out with absolute fidelity. – Edgar Rice Burroughs “A Princess of Mars”
What do you think the main point is? Remember, main ideas often come early on in the passage. Supporting details often reference the main idea also.
The main idea in this case is that a man is preparing for his death. We know this because the character is referred to as “he” and is expecting that something might happen to him. He gives a key to our narrator (person telling the story) that will open a safe with a will in it. The man also makes the narrator promise to obey the will. It looks like the man expects something will happen to him soon and he wants to have his things in order before passing on.
Make sense? I hope that helps. Thanks for watching this video lesson, and until next time, happy studying.