Activities for Teaching Main Idea

Valorie Delp
mom and kids homeschooling

Teaching your kids to recognize the main idea in a passage is a key concept in reading comprehension. While some kids will automatically 'get it', other kids need to be trained to really pull out the main idea from what they are reading. It's for those kids that you will need to provide activities.

Introductory Activities for Teaching Main Idea

These introductory activities apply the concept of main idea to real life objects rather than a story. Once students begin understanding the concept with these activities, you can transfer the skills to pieces of writing.


Activities that focus on categorizing objects ease kids into learning about main ideas. Create a list of words that fall under particular categories. Ideas include clothing, food, transportation or furniture. Have your child group the items and assign each collection a category heading that summarizes how they are similar. Older kids can come up with the category labels on their own, while younger kids may need a list of options.

Two Word Description

Another real world activity is to have the kids describe something using only two words. This is quite challenging for most kids who want to share all the juicy details. The concept behind the activity is that the kids will choose two words to summarize a particular event, representing the main idea of it. The two word description works well for a variety of topics, including a dream they had the previous night, what happened over the weekend or a favorite party they attended. "Scary monsters" is an example for a dream. It includes important elements that provide a basic description, or main idea, of a dream.


Kids may find it easier to summarize the idea of a picture than an entire event or thought. Choose pictures with several details that work together to depict a particular event or activity. For example, a picture of a family in the woods setting up a tent works well for the activity. The children assess the details in the picture and determine the main idea of the illustration.

Additional Practice

Once your kids have the basics of narration down, you'll want to move towards teaching them to find the main idea in something that they've read. Try these activities for helping them pick out the main idea out of what they're reading.

Title This

A great way to get kids thinking about the main idea of a paragraph or story is to ask them to give the piece they're reading a title. When you give them something to read, either cover up the title, or just ask them to come up with a new one. A younger child may need you to give him titles to choose from so he can pick the best one. Either way, it forces the student to think about the main point of what he's just read, rather than focusing on the details.

Take Notes

Combine study skills and reading comprehension into one activity. Give your student a short paragraph to read. Tell him that for each sentence he needs to use two to three words that represent key ideas of that sentence. When he's done, he should have a strong outline of the paragraph that will help him recall the general gist of the paragraph.

Identify Details

Having your child identify details in a piece, rather than the main idea, seems counterintuitive. However, the activity forces your child to identify the difference between insignificant details and major points. To do this activity, give your child a highlighter and a paragraph. Tell him to highlight all the small details in the paragraph, so that the major points and main idea are unhighlighted when he's finished. When he is done, have him tell you the main idea of the paragraph based on the information that isn't highlighted.

Newspaper Articles

The newspaper provides a useful tool for practicing main ideas with older kids. Select certain articles ahead of time that lend themselves well to the concept. Highlighting markers allow the students to mark the main idea and supporting details in the newspaper articles. Have them use one color for the main idea and another color for the details.

Writing Paragraphs

Writing a paragraph based on a given main idea provides an alternative view to the concept. Instead of identifying and differentiating between the main idea and supporting details, the students have the job of creating them. This activity begins with each child selecting a main idea. He uses it to write the topic sentence of the paragraph. He then writes supporting detail sentences that relate back to the main idea.

Visual Aids

Visual aids provide a concrete representation of main ideas and details in a paragraph. If you need help downloading any of the printables, check out these helpful tips.



A drawing of a hamburger loaded with toppings visually represents a paragraph. The hamburger patty, or the meat of the sandwich, holds the main idea. The garnishes represent the details in the paragraph. To use this visual aid, your child reads or listens to a paragraph and then writes a few words describing the main idea in the hamburger patty. Then your child would write the details on the pictures of the toppings.


umbrella printable

The umbrella works just like the hamburger. The main idea goes on the umbrella, which covers everything underneath it. The details go underneath the umbrella holding the main idea.

You can also use this as a single brain storming activity. Have your child fill one out every time you read something aloud that you want her to narrate. At the end of the week, have your child choose one idea, and write a paragraph on that topic based on her main idea umbrella.

Ice Cream Cone

ice cream printable

An ice cream cone provides another option for a main idea visual aid. The cone represents the main idea, because it ties all the details together. Students write the main idea on the cone, and then supporting details on the ice cream.

If you're feeling especially artistic or creative, cut out the cone as is. Then add construction paper scoops of ice cream and add multiple details on each scoop. This is an ideal project for those who love to lapbook. Use the cone in a literature study lapbook as one of your mini-books.


idea web printable

Idea webs allow you to practice identifying the main idea and supporting details of a paragraph. A large circle in the middle holds the main idea of the excerpt. Lines branching off the main idea lead to details that support it.

Main Idea Activities Lead to Better Writing

Activities for teaching main idea encompass a broad range of ideas. These activities provide the necessary practice for kids to identify the basic topic of writing, leading to a better understanding of the piece. Whether they are just beginning or need a refresher, main idea activities serve as a key component to the language arts curriculum.

Activities for Teaching Main Idea