Learning Center


Support Main Idea with Textual Evidence

April 15, 2017

FAQ: What is “evidence” of the main idea?

ANSWER: Standardized tests often ask students to identify evidence for a particular main idea. To teach students how to do this, first clarify three key terms.

TOPIC: The topic is simply the subject of the passage (e.g., panda or panda cub). The topic can be stated in 1-2 words.
MAIN IDEA: Although the topic is a couple of words, the main idea is always a sentence. It’s the most important or overall point the author is making. The topic (e.g., panda cub) is embedded in the main-idea sentence. But the rest of the sentence more narrowly reveals a specific facet or perspective of the topic (e.g., Panda cub is ready for public debut).
EVIDENCE: Evidence of the main idea includes the words, phrases, and sentences within the original text that repeat or reiterate the sentiment of the main-idea sentence.

To model how to find evidence of the main idea, reveal a short newspaper article and its headline (e.g., “Panda cub is ready for public debut” from Tween Tribune). Clarify that the headline is a main-idea sentence as it’s what the passage is mostly about. Read aloud the article, pausing to highlight any reference to the panda, cub, ready, public, and debut (all the words from the headline). Any time one of those words–or a synonym—pops up, highlight it.

After reading through the entire article, it may look something like this. Now Think Aloud and justify how the evidence you’ve highlighted supports the original main-idea headline (e.g., key points are repeated in different words, they exist throughout the article, etc.). Repeat the process with a second short newspaper article and its headline. Facilitate students finding evidence of the main-idea headline.

Eventually, challenge students to do both. Students will read an entire article. Then, they will reread it, stopping to highlight the repetitious words, phrases, and details. Using those words and phrases, they will craft a main-idea sentence inferring what the article is mostly about. Then, all those highlighted details become the evidence to support their main idea.

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