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UNIT 5

GETTING MAIN IDEAS

The main idea tells you more about the topic. It tells you what the author is writing about. If
you know the topic of a paragraph or passage, you know half of what you need to know. You
also need to find out what the author thinks about the topic. Then you have the main idea.

When you know the main idea, you know what is important and what you can skip over.
You can summarize a text and you know what to mark if you are studying a textbook.

These three paragraphs are about the same topic. Do they tell the same idea about the topic?

a. Elephants are the biggest land mammals in the world. They live in two continents,
Africa and southern Asia. African elephants are larger and have great ears like fans.
Asian Elephants are called Indian elephants. Both kind of elephants are majestic
animals and very popular in zoos and circuses. They have been used for centuries as
man’s helpers in large building projects.

Elephants___________________________________________________________

___________________________________________________________________
___________________________________________________________________

b. Both the African and Indian elephants have strong, tough skin and long, lovely tusks.
That is their problem. Elephants are in danger. People kill these animals in order to
use their skin and their tusks. Because of the massive killings, elephants are
dwindling in number and it is feared that by the end of the century, these huge
mammals may be extinct.

Elephants___________________________________________________________

___________________________________________________________________
___________________________________________________________________

c. Elephants are a problem in some parts of Africa. In areas where the largest herds
exist, they have become giant pests to the farmer. No fence id strong enough to keep
these monsters away from the corps. Elephants go where they wish, destroying food
crops and farm buildings, wreaking havoc with the livestock.

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African farmers wonder if they can allow the elephants to continue exist in their
vicinity.

Elephants___________________________________________________________

___________________________________________________________________
___________________________________________________________________

The topic of all three paragraphs is the same: Elephants. But each paragraph
expresses a very different idea about elephants. It is important to read for the topic
AND fort the idea the author expresses about the topic._______________________

___________________________________________________________________

Now, think about different ideas about some topics in the following exercises.

Topics: Supermarkets

Write three different ideas about Supermarkets.

1. Supermarket is now available in every area

_________________________________________________________________________

2. Supermarket is a comfort and clean place for shopping

_________________________________________________________________________

3. In supermarket we can’t bargain because the price are fixed


_________________________________________________________________________

Topic: Land Transportation

Write three different ideas about Land Transportation.

1.

_________________________________________________________________________

2.

_________________________________________________________________________
3.

_________________________________________________________________________

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Topic: Family Picnic
Write three different ideas about Family Picnic.

1.

_________________________________________________________________________

2.
_________________________________________________________________________

3.

_________________________________________________________________________

Task 1

Read each paragraph. Ask yourself, “what is the mai n idea?” Write the topic beside
the main idea.

Clothes can tell a lot about a person. Some people like very colorful clothes. They
want everyone to look at them. They want to be center of things. Other people like to wear
nice clothes. But their clothes are not colorful or fancy. They do not like people to look at
them. There are some people who wear the same thing all the time. They do not care if
anyone looks at them. They do not care what anyone thinks about them.

a. __________ are colorful.


b. Clothes can tell a lot about people.
c. __________ always look nice on some people.

It is important to bring right clothes when you travel. If you are going to a cold
country, you should bring warm clothes. Be sure to have hat and gloves, too. If you are going
to a hot country, you need different clothes. You do not want heavy or dark clothes. In hot
weather, light clothes are best. If you are going to a city, you may need some nice clothes.
You may want to go to a special restaurant or concert. It is different if you are traveling by
bicycle in the country. Then you want comfortable clothes. But one rules is the same for all
travelers. Do not bring too many clothes!
a. __________ for warm weather are light.
b. Clothes are important when you travel.
c. __________ can be heavy.

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3
Clothes today are different from the clothes of the 1800s. One difference is the way
they look. For example, in the 1800s all women wore dresses. The dresses all had long skirts.
But today women do not always wear dresses with long skirts. Sometimes they wear short
skirts. Sometimes they wear pants. Another difference between 1800 and today is the cloth.
They were made from cotton, wool, silk, or linen. But today, there are many new kinds of
man-made cloth. A lot of clothes are now made from nylon, rayon, or polyester.

a) __________ of the 1800s were beautiful.


b) __________ are made of man-made cloth.
c) Clothes today are different from the clothes of the 1800s.

Task 2

Read each paragraph. Ask yourself, “What is the top ic? What is the writer’s idea about the
topic?” Choose the best main idea sentence.

Cats and dogs are both popular pets. But cats are nicer pets in some ways. Cats str
cleaner, first of all. They stay very clean and they do not make the house dirty. Cats are also
quieter than dogs. They usually do not make a lot of noise. Cats are safer, too. Dogs
sometimes bite people, but cats almost never do. And finally, cats are easier to take care of.
You do not have to spend much time with a cat. In fact, many cats prefer to be alone.
a. Some people prefer cats as pets
b. Cats do not make a lot of noise.
c. Cats are nicer than dogs in some ways.

Many children want to have pet. But parents do not like the idea of a dog or a cat in
the house. In fact, pets can be good for children. A pet means something to play with. This
can be especially important if there is only one child. Also, children can learn a lot from a pet
they can learn about animals and the natural world. Children also learn about taking care of
something. They cannot forget about their pet. This is an important lesson for all children.

a. Children usually want a dog or a cat.


b. Pets may be good for children.
c. Parents sometimes do not like pets.

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Most Americans think cats as pets. But not all cats are pets. Some cats help people
and others are a problem. For example, on farms and in old houses, cats can help. They kill
small animals such as rats or mice. But sometimes, people do not want cats around. Some

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people like to watch birds in their yards. Cats may kill th birds or scare them away. Cats are
also a problem in cities. In Rome, for example, thousands of cats live in the streets and old
buildings. They make a lot of noise, and hey are dirty and dangerous.

a) Cats can be a problem.


b) Most Americans think of cats as pets.
c) Cats are not just pets.

Task 3

Read each paragraph. Ask yourself, “What is the top ic? What is the writer’s idea about the
topic?” Then write the main idea sentence.

Not all newspaper ads are for selling things. Some ads are about people. The “help
Wanted” ads give information about jobs. All kinds of jobs are found in this part of the
newspaper. There are ads for secretaries and electricians, doctors and professors. Another
kind of ad about people is the “Personal” ad. These ad are not about work. They are written
by people who are looking for friends. Sometimes these people are even looking for husband
and wives. Newspaper ads are a very good way to get people together.

Main idea ______________________________________________________________


______________________________________________________________________
2

We can learn a lot about a country from the personal ads. Those ads tell us about
people and their problems. One example of this is from Spain. In a small in Spain there were
forty-two men. But there were not many women there. The men wanted to find wives. So
they put a personal ad in a city newspaper. Some women in the city were not happy living
alone. So they answered the ad by telephone. They wanted to find out more about the town
and the men. But the women did not go to live in the town. They did not really want to work
on farms. They did not really want to marry small-town men. So the men did not find wives.
And the women are still alone. Not all women in Spain are like these people. But this ad may
tell us something about larger problems in Spain.

Main Idea ______________________________________________________________


______________________________________________________________________
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Personal ads are usually written for good reasons. Most of the people who write the
really do want a friend. But sometimes people write personal ads for other reasons. They
may write ad as a joke. This is not a nice thing to do. The people who answer the ads may be
unhappy. They may need a friend very much. Some of the people who write the ads can
cause worse problems. They may want to hurt someone. So, if you answer a personal ad, you
should be careful. The ad may not mean what it says
Main Idea ___________________________________________________________

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Task 4
Read each paragraph. Ask yourself, “What is the top ic? What is the writer’s idea about the
topic?” Then write the main idea sentence.

“Black Thursday” is a day many Americans will neve r forget. It was October 24,
1929, the beginning of the Great Depression. Before that day, business in America was
growing fast. Between 1914 and 1929, it grew about 62%. But on “Black Thursday”
everything changed. On that day, American business suddenly stopped growing. In fact,
many businesses stopped completely. The next few years of American history are called the
Great Depression. These were terrible years for business and for the people. Five thousand
banks and 85,000 businesses failed. Many people lost all their money. About 12 million
Americans lost their jobs.
Main idea ___________________________________________________________
Black Thursday was worse day for americans
2

The Great Depression of the early 1930s surprised many people. They did not think
American business could have such terrible problems. For a long time, they did not believe
the problem was serious. Many businessmen hoped for better times soon. Even President
Hoover did not think the Depression was serious. He told Americans in 1930 that the
problems were already going away. But this was not true. Millions of Americans did not
have jobs. Many of these people did not have home or food. Life was hard for many
Americans. And it did not get easier for many years.

Main Idea ______________________________________________________________


The great depression was surprised and problem for American business
3
The Great Depression finally ended for several reasons. One reason was a new
government with new ideas. In 1932, Franklin D. Roosevelt became President of The United
States. He made many changes in the laws to help people. New laws helped American banks
and business. Other laws gave people jobs and housing. But Roosevelt’s government was
only one reason for the end of the depression. The other reason was World War II. In the late
1930s, the United States began to get ready for the war. New factories were built for war
planes and ships. That meant more jobs. These jobs gave many people a chance to change
their live.
Main Idea ______________________________________________________________
The Great Depression finally ended because new government and WWII

Task 5

A. Read each paragraph. Ask yourself, “What is the top ic? What is the writer’s idea
about the topic?” Then write the main idea sentence .

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1

Population growth is a serious problem around the world. At the beginning of the 20th
century there were about 1.5 billion people in the world. In 1984 the world population was
4.8 billion people. By the year 2000, it will be about 6.1 billion.
Main idea increase population growth makes problem
2

This growth in population is not happening everywhere. For example, in Europe the
population is not growing at all. Families in these countries are smaller now. Only about 2.1
children are born for every woman. The United States also has similar families. Its population
is only growing little every year.
Main Idea population growth is not happening in some contries
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But on other areas of the world the population is growing very fast. This is true in
parts of Africa, South America, and Asia. Countries in those areas have a difficult future
ahead. Already, these countries have serious problems. First of all, food is a problem in many
countries. Many people do not get enough to eat every day. There is not enough housing or
work for everyone. Also, many people do not get education or medical care. A larger
population will make all these problems worse.

Main Idea the fast population growth is causing problem


4
But there is some hope for change. It may be possible to slow down population
growth. It happened in China, for example. In 1974, China’s population was growing very
fast. Then the people learned how to have smaller families. By 1984, the population was not
growing fast anymore. This is an important change. China is the largest country in the
country in the world, with over one billion people. If China can make this change, maybe
other countries can too.

Main Idea a.) how slowdown population growth


b.) china’s found the control about population growth

B. 1. What is the topic of this page?


Population________________________________________
2. What is the main idea? Population growth is a serious problem but it can be
controlled/ slow down growth

Task 6

A. Read each paragraph. Ask yourself, “What is the top ic? What is the writer’s idea
about the topic?” Then write the main idea sentence .
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1

American cities changed in many ways after World War II. Many people moved out
of the city. They moved to the suburbs, areas around a city. Most of the people who moved
were rich. Poor people usually did not have enough money to move. They stayed in the cities

Main idea American people moved out of the city after WWII
2

During the 1950s and 60s there were another important change in American cities.
Businesses began to leave the city, too. They left because the people in the city were poorer.
Poor people do not have much money to buy things. So, many shops and restaurants moved
out to the suburbs. People in suburbs have more money to spend.
Main Idea Bussiness began moved out the cities during the WWII
3
Cities began to have many serious problems. The rich people and the businesses did
not pay the city taxes anymore. The poor people could not pay much money in taxes. So,
cities had less money for schools and housing. Sometimes they could not pay their police
officers or firefighters. And they could not take good care of their streets and parks.

Main Idea Cities began to financial problems


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But money was only part of the problem. Many people believed that American cities
were dying. They had good reason to believe this. City streets were sadly empty. Many
neighborhood and parks were dirty and dangerous. In some places buildings were even
falling down. And nobody seemed care. This was the real problem. Most of the people and
businesses with money were in the suburbs. They did not care what happened to the cities.

Main Idea ________________________________________________________________

B. 1. What is the topic of this page? American cities after world war
II________________________________________
2. What is the main idea? Changes in American cities after world war II cause many
problems

Task 7 Stating Central / Main Idea

After you read the first paragraph below ask yourself two question: (1) What is the
paragraph about? (2) What is the main understanding the author wants me to have about the
subject? To answer (1) write down in the space provided at the end of the end of the
paragraph. To answer (2) put a check before the group of words that goes with the topic
(1) To make a statement. The topic you choose and the group of words you selected will make
a statement that is central / main idea of pargraph.

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1
Small compact cars have become familiar sight throughout the United States. A steadily
increasing number of people favor these cars. They appreciate the low cost of operating a
small car that goes 25 to 30 miles on a gallon of gas. In view of many expenses involved in
operating a car today, owners consider this an important saving. They also point out that the
original purchase price of the compact car is considerably less than that of most of the bigger
models. In addition, owners praise the increased maneuverability of their small cars. With
parking space at premium in most cities today, a small car that can easily move in and out of
a tight space solves a problem for many drivers. People who select compacts are likewise
pleased with the simplicity of their styling. No wonder automobile companies are increasing
their production of small compact models. ______________________________
_______________________________________________________________________

_________________ are more economical to operate


_________________ are popular for several reasons
_________________ have a small market
_________________ are suitable for every use

2
A trip to Europe is a fascinating experience for many reasons, not at least of which is
breakfast. At an English hotel this meal is a hearty one: juice, cereal, milk, bacon, eggs, toast,
jam, and coffee. A short trip across the Channel and you are in Holland. The Dutch breakfast
seems to be missing a few items. However, slices of cheese and ham, sweet dark bread, jam,
butter, and coffee make an appetizing meal. In a Belgian hotel, breakfast grow still smaller.
Gone are the Dutch ham and cheese, but rolls, butter, jam, and coffee will satisfy most
travelers. Breakfast changes again in a Parisian sidewalk café. While most Frenchmen
content themselves with several cups of strong black coffee, the tourist often makes use of a
basket of rolls and a plate of butter that are also offered. Hotel breakfast in Europe

_______________ consist of many different kinds of food


_______________ are very unlike American breakfast
_______________ are a surprise to the foreigner visiting Europe for the first time
_______________ vary in size and in offering from country to country

3
o
People came from miles around the small Pennsylvania town to see the first run of the steam
locomotive, the Stourbridge Lion. The engineer refused to let anyone ride with him perhaps
because neither the engine nor the trestle had been tested. As the signal to start was given,
there was a moment of suspense. Then, slowly, the wheel began to turn. Cheers went up as
engineer Allen opened the throttle wide and began his historic trip. All along the route, men
waved their hats, small boys shouted, and women stared in amazement as the Lion thundered
past the fantastic speed at ten miles an hour. Who would have believed that anything so big
could move so fast without a horse to pull it! _______________________
_______________________________________________________________________

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_______________ was an exciting event
_______________ occurred in Pennsylvania
_______________ took place in1830
_______________ attracted many people

Identifying Main Ideas and Supporting Details

Sometimes the main idea in a paragraph is not easy to identify. Usually it is stated in the first
sentence of the paragraph, but many may come in the middle, at the end, or not at all. It is
useful for your comprehension if you are able to recognize the main idea in the paragraph
and its supporting sentences.

Example:
Some words are loaded with pleasant associations. Such words as home, happiness,
tenderness, contentment, baby, and other usually bring out favorable feelings or
connotations. The word mother, for instance, makes most people think of home, safety,
love, care, food, security and the like.

What would you say the paragraph is about? In this example the paragraph is about words
with pleasant association, therefore the main idea is in the first sentence.
What evidence is supplied to support the main idea? The following details support the main
idea: a) Examples: home, happiness, tenderness, contentment, etc. b) specific example:
mother creating thoughts of home, safety, love, etc.

Task 8 PR

Read the following paragraphs, and then write the main ideas and their supporting details.

1
It is now believed that the earth’s outer layer of rock, called lithosphere, is divided into
large, rigid plates that fit together like jigsaw puzzle. There are twelve major plates (and
numerous subplates), each about sixty miles thick and some almost as wide as the Pacific
Ocean. They float on a layer of dense, viscous rock called asthenospehre, which in turn,
surrounds the earth’s hot core.
Main Idea ________________________________________________________________
Supporting details __________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________

2
Caffeine has various effects on the body. It speeds up the heart, promotes the release of
stomach, and increase urine production; also, it dilates some blood vessels while narrowing
others. In large amount, caffeine may cause convulsions, but this is unlikely. It takes about
10 grams of caffeine, the equivalent of 100 cups of coffee, to run a serious risk of death.

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Psychologically, caffeine suppresses fatigue or drowsiness and increases feeling of
alertness.
Main Idea ________________________________________________________________
Supporting details __________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________

3
Sometimes we bury or hide our undesirable emotions. We do this because we have been
programmed to do this. By the time we are five years old, our parents have influenced to be
affectionate, tender, angry, or hateful. We moralize our emotions. We tell ourselves it is
good to feel grateful, but bad to feel angry or jealous. So we repress emotions we should
release. We got into “value conflicts”. Boys and me n are not supposed to cry or show fear.
So some men attempt to bury their true feelings and create a false self-image.
Main Idea ________________________________________________________________
Supporting details __________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________

4
Cocaine has a long history of use and misuse in the United States. At the turn of the century,
dozens of non-prescription potions and cure-alls containing cocaine were sold. It was during
this time that Coca Cola was indeed the ‘real thing’. From 1886, when it was first
concocted, until 1906 when the Pure Food and Drug Act was passed, Coca Cola contained
cocaine (which has been replaced with caffeine). In the 1930s, the popularity of cocaine
declined when cheaper synthetic amphetamines became available. This trend was reversed
in the 1960s when a federal crackdown on amphetamine sales made this drug less available
and more expensive. Today, cocaine is becoming one of most widely abused illegal drugs.

Main Idea ________________________________________________________________


Supporting details __________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________

5
Despite the central role breathing plays in our lives as organism, few of us have been taught
how to breathe. Most of us are unaware that we use probably only a third of our lung
capacity. Our breathing is shallow and occurs about fifteen to seventeen times a minute,
taking in about a pint of air each time. Yet our lungs can hold eight times much air.
Therefore shallow breathing provides only a limited amount of fresh oxygen and doesn’t
fully expel all the burnt gases, such as carbon dioxide.
Main Idea ________________________________________________________________
Supporting details __________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________

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