Te Arapiki Ako
"Towards better teaching & learning"

Identifying main ideas

Comment on this item  
Add to your favourites
Remove from your favourites
Add a note on this item
Recommend to a friend
Comment on this item
Send to printer
Request a reminder of this item
Cancel a reminder of this item
Share |
Last updated 26 October 2012 15:30 by NZTecAdmin
Identifying main ideas (PDF, 28 KB)

The purpose of the activity

To distinguish between main ideas and supporting details in a text.

The learners match up paragraphs of a text with a set of summary statements.

Note: The identification of main ideas in a text is a complex process that takes time to learn. It is very important for some adult learners because it is a step towards learning how to summarise and take notes. This activity helps the learners to focus on the key aspects of the text (those that enable the learner to meet the purpose for their reading) rather than being distracted by those that are irrelevant.

The teaching points

  • Thinking logically about which main ideas go with which paragraph.
  • Reading with a purpose and with purposeful questions in mind.


Copies of a text and a summary sentence for each paragraph in the text.

The guided teaching and learning sequence

1. Choose a text that is reasonably easy for the learners to read and on a subject that is familiar to them. Check the text is well structured. The best texts to use when teaching learners how to select main ideas are those that have clear, topic-based sentences and links between paragraphs, which help the learner to see the flow of ideas.

2. For each paragraph, write a sentence that summarises the main idea of that paragraph. Give each pair or group of learners a set of these summary sentences.

3. Explain to the whole group how you chose the main ideas and produced the summary statements. Model ‘thinking aloud’ while reenacting the process.

4. Ask the learners to work in pairs or small groups and to match each sentence with the appropriate paragraph as they read the text.

5. The learners justify their choices, explaining why they think each statement describes the main idea of a specific paragraph and giving evidence from the text.


If you have any comments please contact us.

Search this section

Knowing the Demands Knowing the Learner Knowing the What to Do

News feeds

Subscribe to newsletter