Teaching Main Idea and Authors Purpose
What is the difference?
Main Idea: All stories, paragraphs, poems and articles have a main idea. The main idea tells us what the passage is about. The main idea, if stated, is also known as a topic sentence, and is usually stated in the first or last sentence of the paragraph, but not always. Sometimes it is in the middle of the paragraph, and sometimes it is not even stated (but implied). The other sentences tell more about the topic sentence. To find the main idea, one needs to ask themselves, “What is this passage mostly about?”
Author’s Purpose: Every author has a purpose for writing his passage. It might be to give information, explain something, solve a problem, sell something, persuade, or even simply to entertain. Authors support their purpose for writing with their point of view…their thoughts, feelings and beliefs.
In reading fiction, one needs to know who is telling the story. Is it a main character? Or is it someone else, a narrator? It is also important to understand the tone or mood of a story (the feeling that the author creates). Is it funny, sad, or scary?
Children often have difficulty distinguishing the difference between these two reading elements. I find it helpful to teach Main Idea first, making sure they understand before I move on to Author’s Purpose. After they understand both concepts we discuss the differences. it is also important to question and listen to the child so you are sure they understand.
How to teach these to concepts: To begin with explain the concept you are teaching. You can actually read the descriptions I give above or use your own words if you like.
The next step can be quite fun if you adjust to the child’s interests. Do they like to fish, hunt, play games, help you, tell stories, or read about certain subjects? I have had students write a letter or an article, and then ask them to tell me their main idea and/ or authors purpose along with other questions mentioned above. Sometimes I choose passages that I know they would be interested in reading, and ask the same questions. While viewing a TV advertisement (or an advertisement on a cereal box) it can be fun to ask them what they think the authors purpose is, and if they agree with it. There are numerous daily activities that can support your teaching objectives.
Using curriculum is great too. There is some very good curriculum out there, which can be a time saver for you the educator, and there is nothing wrong with that if it is working for you and your student. I personally use both curriculum and the creative methods.
Don’t be intimidated. With a little information and the right tools, teaching children to read is fun and easy.