What is the Main Idea of a Story?

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  • 0:03 The Main Idea of a Story
  • 0:28 Knowing If It's the Main Idea
  • 1:43 Looking for the Main Idea
  • 3:01 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christina Boggs

Chrissy has taught secondary English and history and writes online curriculum. She has an M.S.Ed. in Social Studies Education.

Have you ever read a story and wondered to yourself, 'What's the main idea of this story?' In this lesson, we'll go over what the main idea of a story is, why it's important and how to find it.

The Main Idea of a Story

Let's cut to the chase. The main idea of this lesson is that the main idea of a story is the most important thing a reader is supposed to walk away with. You've probably heard the literary phrase 'main idea' by one of its many nicknames:

  • central idea
  • central point
  • main point

Regardless of what you call it, the main idea of a story is the big picture.

Knowing if It's the Main Idea?

Sometimes it can be tricky to find the main idea of a story, especially if the story is really long! In some instances, a story may even have more than one main idea. One of the best ways to determine the main idea is to figure what's NOT the main idea first.

Main Idea or Supporting Detail?

The main idea is not detailed or specific. Look at these two statements. Can you tell which one is the main idea and which one is a supporting detail?

  • Harry Potter flew across the Quidditch field on his broomstick, leaving a trail of flames behind him.
  • Harry Potter learns the trials and tribulations of growing up, the value of friendship and the ability of good to overcome evil.

If you guessed the second statement, then you're correct! If you've ever read the Harry Potter books (or seen the movies!), then you have a general sense for what the series covers. Flying on broomsticks happens all the time, but that is not what readers are meant to take away from the books.

Main Idea or Topic?

When you read, it's important to make sure you know the difference between the main idea and the topic of a story. The topic is what the story is about, or the primary subject. For example, the topic of the Harry Potter series may be 'witchcraft' or 'wizardry'. But that's not the main idea, it's not the big picture concept.

Looking for the Main Idea

As you read, it's always a good idea to keep an eye out for the main idea. The main idea may be easy to pick up in some stories, but in other instances, you may have to go digging for it. Luckily, there are a few strategies you can use to help you.

First, consider breaking up the story into smaller chunks. See if you can find the main idea in paragraphs, sections and chapters. Taking notes as you go is helpful as well. This way, you can look for any common themes between chunks. You may even see a pattern develop between events or character insights.

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