Summary, Main Idea, & Supporting Details The main idea of a passage is what the passage is mostly about. It is the basic point that the author wants the reader to understand. The sentences that support, or explain, the main idea are called supporting details. Think about a story or article you have read lately. What was it mostly about? That is the main idea of that story or article. It is the basic point that the author wants you to know or learn. When you are looking for the main idea of a passage, ask yourself: What is this passage mostly about? Why did the author write this passage? The answer to these questions is the main idea. To check if you really know the main idea, ask yourself: Do the sentences in the passage support this idea? If the answer is yes, you have found the main idea. Remember, the main idea is more detailed, or specific, than a topic. For example, you might read a passage about the television-watching habits of children. That is the topic. The main idea would be more specific, like "Children today are watching twice as much television on average than children were watching five years ago." The sentences in the passage would support this main idea by explaining this point. One supporting detail might be the number of hours children watched television five years ago. Let's try to find the main idea of the passage below. Example Geologists are scientists who study the earth and how it was formed. They are like detectives looking for clues as to how something happened. Sometimes, they look for clues that are millions of years old. Whenever they see rivers, mountains, or even caves, these scientists begin to search around to see what made them. Caves are natural holes or passageways in the earth. A geologist would probably wonder two things about a cave. What made the tunnel? What kind of rock is the cave found in? When scientists look closely at rocks, sometimes they will find fossils. Fossils are the proof of past life like a bone, footprint, or shell. Not all rocks have fossils in them. If they find fossils of ancient sea creatures in the rocks, geologists can tell that an ocean used to flow in the area. adapted from http://www.bridalcave.com/kidspage/ What is the main idea of this passage? Geologists study rocks and fossils to learn how the Earth was formed. Look at this passage. Think about what the passage is mostly about. It is about geologists and what geologists do. Geologists are scientists who study rocks and fossils to learn how the Earth was formed. That is the main idea of this passage. The other sentences in the passage support this idea. They explain what geologists are looking for and how geologists study the fossils or rocks to learn things about the earth. Summary, Main Idea, & Supporting Details When you summarize a story, you retell it in a much shorter way. A summary tells only the most important details or events in a passage. It does not include all of the details or descriptions of a passage. Look at this example of a summary of the passage below. Arbor Day Celebrates Our Love of Trees Americans have a strong love of trees that is always growing. Each year, the United States celebrates Arbor Day. This national holiday was started in Nebraska. The holiday’s founder was Julius Sterling Morton. He once said of Arbor Day, “Other holidays are about the past; Arbor Day deals with the future.” Morton came west to plant trees, just like Johnny Appleseed. He planted trees in Nebraska. These would help block mighty winds on the plains. They would also help to keep the soil moist. The trees gave people shade, lumber, fuel, and food. Morton asked others to grow trees with him. He suggested that one day a year be set aside to honor tree-planting. His idea caught on quickly. In 1872, the first celebration of Arbor Day took place in Nebraska. Over a million trees were planted that day. Arbor Day became a state holiday in Nebraska on April 22, 1885. It is also Morton’s birthday. Arbor Day is celebrated on different dates in some states. It depends on the best time to plant trees in each state. Summary of Story Arbor Day celebrates the future by planting trees in the U.S. The holiday was founded by Julius Morton in Nebraska in 1872 and is celebrated in all of the states across the U.S. today.