Main Idea Background Information for Teachers and Parents

Grade Levels: K-3

This page contains information to support educators and families in teaching K-3 students about the concept of the main idea in reading and writing. The information is designed to complement the BrainPOP Jr. movie Main Idea. It explains the type of content covered in the movie, provides ideas for how teachers and parents can develop related understandings, and suggests how other BrainPOP Jr. resources can be used to scaffold and extend student learning.

Identifying main idea and supporting details is an important part of reading comprehension. State-mandated tests often assess whether or not students are able to find the main argument of a piece of writing and identify the information that supports it. Thus, developing this skill at an early age will allow your children to excel at reading and comprehension.

The main idea of a piece of writing is the central point the author tries to make. This can be an opinion, argument, or a general idea. Most of the time, but not always, the main idea is stated in a topic sentence. This sentence is usually near the beginning and sets up what the rest of the writing will be about, although authors may chose place the main idea in the concluding sentence in a paragraph. The topic sentence not only sets up the thesis, but it also sets up tone, voice, and style.

Supporting details are sentences that support the main idea. These sentences have information that helps explain and prove the author’s point. For example, a paragraph about how animals hide might have supporting details about camouflage. Strong paragraphs have clear and organized details that relate to the main idea. Transitions, descriptive adjectives, and active verbs are other elements of good writing. We recommend watching the Writing a Paragraph movie together as a review.

Children may have an easier time finding the main idea in nonfiction than in fiction. You can help them by drawing upon their prior experiences. For example, many children can determine the moral of a fable. Teach them to look for a “big idea” or “message” an author is trying to get across with their story.

Encourage your children to think about main ideas and supporting details as they read. How did they identify the main idea? Where is the topic sentence? What details help support the main idea? Students may find it helpful to create a main idea chart as they read. This will allow them to organize and digest new information that they encounter and learn. As students become comfortable with identifying the main idea and supporting information, they will be able to incorporate what they learn into their own writing.