How to Identify the Main Idea in a Story if You Are in Elementary School

The main idea is the central point an author is trying to make.
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When you and your class are reading stories or parts of stories, your teacher may ask you to define the main idea of what you've read. The main idea of a story is the most important thing the author is trying to tell you, the reader. Usually, the main idea of the story is made up of the main character or characters, the problem they are trying to solve and what they try on the way. Understanding how to identify the main idea of the story is a big step on the way to becoming an accomplished reader. Here are some tips on how to do it.

1 Read Carefully

Don't rush through reading, even if you think you know what's going to happen in the story. You may miss something important. Pay attention to any titles or chapter titles. Once you've carefully read your assignment once, read through it again. This time, you may want to have a pencil and paper ready to take a few notes on the plot of the story.

2 Find Characters, Conflict and Action

Most of the time, there won't be one specific sentence in the story that spells out the main idea. (But sometimes, there might be!) Instead, you'll have to dig a little bit in the reading to find it. On your paper, write down who you think the main character or characters are. Then write down what the conflict of the story is. A conflict doesn't have to be something major, like a fight. It could simply be getting to school on time or going out for ice cream. When the characters have a goal but there are obstacles in their way, that's the conflict of the story. Finally, write down the actions those characters take to reach their goal.

3 Write Your Main Idea Sentence

When you read through your notes, the main idea of the story should be much more clear. All that's left to do is express it in a sentence. Again, the main idea is the main characters plus their goal plus what they do to get there. So write a sentence that combines those things. For example, the main idea of "Beauty and the Beast" could be written like this: "The Beast must show kindness to Belle so that she falls in love with him in order to break the witch's enchantment on his castle." If you have time, read the story again with your main idea sentence in mind to make sure that it is indeed the most important part.

  • Mark the things you think might help you decide on the main idea by placing sticky notes next to important words or details as you are reading. Then you can go back to your sticky notes and write down the details you want to use.

Sage is a Film and TV Writer for Bustle and a freelance recapper for Entertainment Weekly. She also shares her ongoing love affair with pop culture and fandom culture on her personal entertainment blog, Head Over Feels.