If you can learn to identify the main idea and supporting details in your textbook readings, you will be able to take notes that focus on the most important ideas. Your notes will be easier to study from, and the information will be easier for you to remember.
How can you find the main idea quickly?
- Ask yourself what the TOPIC of the paragraph is. What concept, event or thing is the paragraph about?
- What point is the author making about the topic? What, in general, is the author saying about the topic? If you could summarize the author’s main opinion or statement about the topic in one sentence, what would that be? This is probably the MAIN IDEA.
- The other sentences should be evidence to support the main idea. This can be in the form of definitions, examples, descriptions, facts, reasons, or causes. These are the SUPPORTING DETAILS.
When you take notes, you should make it clear which notes are main ideas and which are details. You can do that by indenting, using different colours, putting a star or asterisk beside the main ideas, or using the Cornell system of note-taking.
The reason is that later, when you are studying, you will focus on the main ideas. You will also memorize some of the supporting details so that you have evidence for your main idea. However, instead of a whole lot of unconnected facts to remember, you will focus on learning a smaller number of main ideas and understanding the evidence behind them.
If you’d like to watch some YouTube videos on main ideas and details, follow the links below: