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Main Idea, Details, and Author’s Purpose

Standard Addressed: WS1.1 – Establish a controlling impression or coherent thesis that conveys a clear and distinctive perspective on the subject and maintain a consistent tone and focus throughout the piece of writing; WS 1.4 – Develop the main ideas within the body of the composition through supporting evidence (e.g., scenarios, commonly held beliefs, hypotheses, definitions).

ESLR: Resourceful Learner

Main Idea

The main idea or theme of a reading selection is the topic the passage is mostly about. A selection’s main idea is sometimes evident through reading the first or last sentences of the passage. However, to get a full understanding of the main idea, you must read the entire passage. Longer reading passages can have more than one main idea.

Directions: Read the following short passages. Pay attention to the information from the first and last sentences and then determine the main idea of each passage.

Sully had always dreamed of getting a Jack Russell terrier puppy, and she reminded her mother of this frequently. On Sully’s birthday one year, Sully’s mother, Ms. Reyes, met her daughter after school and told her they had to pick up a few things for dinner. The market was right next to a pet store! But Ms. Reyes bought only sugar, milk, and eggs for a birthday cake, and then they drove home without so much as a glance at the pet store. When they arrived home, Ms. Reyes said, “Why don’t you go play in your room? I think there might be a surprise in there for you.” Sully rushed to her room and flung open the door. Sure enough, on her bed was a puppy—but it was a stuffed toy. Sully was delighted with the toy and thanked her mother, but she still longed for a real, live pet. That night after dinner, after Sully had opened presents from her sister and friends, Ms. Reyes said, “Sully, would you go into the pantry and bring me some paper towels?” Sully rose from the table and opened the pantry door. There on the floor was a tiny baby dog! “Surprise!” shouted her family from the table, and they all got up to see their new pet. Sully finally had the puppy for which she had always wished.

1. What is the main idea of this passage?


2. Based on the main idea of the passage, what would be an appropriate title?


You sit with your back to the wind

And your hair whipping

Around your head and in front of your eyes

Shielding you from the shining sun.

The waves splash up over the edge

Of the boat walls

As you bump on the waves.

The bay is rough today.

You can taste the salt

When you lick your lips

After the seawater dries on your skin

And the wind is at your back.

3. What is the main idea of this passage?


4. Based on the main idea of the passage, what would be an appropriate title?


The piano as we know it today is roughly the same as it always has been. A piano is actually a string instrument, though it’s played by striking keys attached to the strings. The first piano, known as a clavichord, was a version of a harp turned on its side and enclosed in a small box. You can still see examples of a clavichord, which looks like an oblong box with a keyboard running nearly the length of one long side. A clavichord would fit on your lap, while a modern piano is much larger. Since about 1450, keyboards have remained the same, except that the placement of the black and white keys was reversed. But with that single exception, there are representations of pianos as they look today dating back to the fourteenth century. The instrument works so well that there has been little reason to modify it over time.

5. What is the main idea of this passage?


6. Based on the main idea of the passage, what would be an appropriate title?



Supporting details in a passage provide a reader with additional information about the main idea or subject. Details are always a useful way to increase a reader’s understanding of what a writer is discussing. For example, if you were giving someone driving directions, you might include descriptions of landmarks along the road to help the person picture the surroundings. Supporting details act like landmarks in a passage. They are pieces of information that help you see the big picture in a text.

Both fiction and nonfiction may include details that support a main idea. A nonfiction passage might include details that strengthen an author’s statements and assertions. An author’s assertion can be thought of as a personal idea or opinion drawn from supporting details. For example, suppose a sports reporter wrote an editorial stating that your school’s wrestling team is the greatest high school wrestling team of all time. A supporting detail in the editorial could be that the team won eleven tournaments, which is more than any other team in history. Another supporting detail might be that every member of the team has graduated and gone on to college.

Details in a fictional story also support main ideas about the setting, characters, and events in the story. For example, a story that includes teenagers who can fly could support the idea that the people in the story have supernatural powers.

Directions: Read the short passages below and answer the questions that follow.

Computers have gotten much smaller and more useful over time. The first computer was very different from the computers we use today. First of all, it was much larger—the size of a whole room—and it did only mathematical computations. Some people like to do math in their heads. A computer correctly predicted that Eisenhower would win the 1952 election, even when opinion polls predicted a landslide victory for the other candidate. Computer usefulness grew to the point that Time magazine selected the computer as “Man of the Year” in 1982—although the author of the article wrote his piece on a typewriter.

7. Write the main idea of this passage in the space below. Then underline all the supporting details in the passage above and cross out any sentences that are not supporting details.


Susan’s jacket was her trademark. She wore it everywhere, and it was one of a kind. The jacket was styled like a men’s sport coat. It was made of green sharkskin with gold-and-black leopard-print lapels. The lining was made of the same fabric as the lapels. Sometimes leopard-print jackets can be expensive. Embroidered on the back of the jacket was a gold pyramid with a single eye on top, like the design on a dollar bill. Everyone knew Susan by her jacket.

8. Write the main idea of this passage in the space below. Then underline all the supporting details in the passage above and cross out any sentences that are not supporting details.


The trains to Bargerville should run on a more frequent schedule. There should be more than two trains a day on the weekend. Although the transit department argues that there aren’t enough riders to support an early-morning train in addition to the midday and evening trains, it is also possible that there would be more riders if the trains were more frequent and, therefore, more convenient. The trains are yellow. The morning train would encourage tourism and day trips, which would benefit local commerce and improve residential values in the region.

9. Write the main idea of this passage in the space below. Then underline all the supporting details in the passage above and cross out any sentences that are not supporting details.


Author’s Purpose

Why do authors write? Whom do authors write for? An author’s purpose is his or her reason for writing. Often, authors write because they have a desire to tell or a need to express. Every author has a different purpose, sometimes a very personal one. Some authors write to entertain their audiences. Authors who write essays and nonfiction write to inform their readers or to explain something. Many writers are motivated by the desire to persuade or convince their reader to agree with a specific idea or opinion. This is the intention behind many persuasive essays that you may read. It is important to remember that however different the purpose might be, every author has a reason for writing.

Directions: Read the three individual short paragraphs below. State the author’s purpose for writing each paragraph.

It was my first day on the job. For almost eight hours thirty screaming first-graders would be entirely my responsibility. I had spent all night preparing my lesson plan, I ironed my nicest suit, and I even got a pep talk from one of my old teachers. Still, nothing could prepare me for the nightmare that I walked into. Not one of the students listened to a word I said—it took me almost an hour to get them all seated and quiet. They could tell that I was new, and they made minced meat out of me.

10. What is the author’s purpose in this paragraph?


It isn’t hard to find Molly’s Magnificent Diner. If you’re driving on Route 91 heading north from Hanover, it’s quite easy. Stay on Route 91 North for about twenty miles past Hanover. Be sure to watch the names of the exits as they pass by. You’re looking for Exit 11, St. Johnsbury. Make a left at the exit and turn right at the first stoplight. Pass the used car lot on your right, pass a yellow farmhouse on your left, and soon you’ll see a long driveway. At the bottom of the driveway should be a big sign for Molly’s Magnificent Diner, with festive lights illuminating the way to the parking lot.

11. What is the author’s purpose in this paragraph?


America’s two-party system, composed of Democrats and Republicans, is ineffective and unfair. The United States is supposed to be the “home of the free,” but how can we be free if we have only two stale choices for president? Both the Republican Party and the Democratic Party have been in existence for so many years that they’re out of touch with what the average American needs. It’s impossible to find candidates who do not regurgitate the old ideas of the party that they belong to. With such a ridiculous system, we will never have the opportunity to elect innovative politicians who have strong ideas that will help the country. Until we break out of the two-party model, politics will remain an uninspiring arena for many citizens.

12. What is the author’s purpose in this paragraph?


Test Practice!

Directions: Read the passage below and then answer the questions that follow. (Hint: Don’t forget to read for the main idea, use POE, use the Six Step Strategy, and underline key words in the passage and questions!)

The Wild Ride Your Food Takes

Have you ever wondered what happens to a piece of food after you put it in your mouth? It doesn’t simply go to your stomach and get converted into energy. You probably know that your body breaks it down into particles small enough to be absorbed by your blood in a process called digestion. But do you know how digestion occurs? Do you know how a bite of an apple is transformed in your body? It’s a complex process that involves more of your body than you may realize.

The process of digestion involves your mouth, teeth, tongue, stomach, small intestine, pancreas, gallbladder, and large intestine. It’s a fascinating, elaborate process.

Digestion starts as soon as that piece of apple enters your mouth. You begin by taking a bite and chewing. As you chew, you break food into smaller pieces. The food becomes mixed with the saliva in your mouth. Saliva is mostly water, but it also contains an enzyme called salivary amylase. Salivary amylase begins breaking down the food in your mouth into sugar. The saliva also aids digestion by moistening the food, which helps to break it into even smaller pieces.

Once you swallow your food, it travels through the muscular tube known as the esophagus and then passes into your stomach. Food travels quickly through the esophagus—in approximately four to ten seconds—and no digestion occurs there. However, once the food enters the stomach, it’s sent on a digestive roller-coaster ride in which strong stomach muscles contract vigorously, tossing and turning the food. The squeezing action of the stomach is known as peristalsis. Working in combination with these churning contractions are digestive juices that contain hydrochloric acid and an enzyme called pepsin. Digestive juices work to digest any food that consists of protein. These foods include milk, meat, and eggs. Digestive juices do not work on sugars, fats, and starches.

After you eat, some food stays in your stomach for quite some time—anywhere from two to five hours. Fine particles and liquids, though, leave the stomach almost immediately. The food that your stomach has begun to digest is now known as chyme. At this point it is a thin, watery fluid, and there are still many steps left in digestion.

1. Which of the following best expresses the main idea of this passage?

A. Digestion is a simple process.

B. Digestion involves many parts of the body.

C. You should watch what you eat.

D. Some foods are harder to digest than others.

2. Which genre of book is this passage most likely from?

A. novel

B. poetry

C. reference book

D. biography

3. Which of the following sentences BEST summarizes the third paragraph?

A. Amylase is an important enzyme found in saliva.

B. Chewing helps you swallow your food.

C. Enzymes change starches in food to sugar.

D. The digestive process begins in the mouth.

4. For what purpose would you read this passage?

A. to figure out how to have a balanced diet

B. to learn about the complex process of digestion

C. to be entertained by a funny story

D. to find out how much food you need to eat to survive

5. When would you most likely read a passage such as this one?

A. during a trip to a restaurant

B. during a math class

C. during a science class

D. during a history class


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