Main Idea in Nonfiction Pieces

Contributor: Danielle Childers. Lesson ID: 10215

What's the main idea of the words clown, exotic animals, trapeze, tight rope, and elephants? Clues that make a connection to the circus! Don't be clueless about finding the main idea of non-fiction!



learning style
personality style
Lion, Beaver
Grade Level
Intermediate (3-5)
Lesson Type
Quick Query

Lesson Plan - Get It!


Pictures. Links. Sentences. Examples. Videos. Projects. Games. Teaching. What main idea links those words together? Yes, we are trying to teach you something! Get the idea?

Looking at this painting by Charles Landseer, describe it in two sentences.

Consider who is in the picture, what is going on, where and when it was, and why the picture was painted:

The Eve of the Battle of Edge Hill, 1642

 Image by Charles Landseer, via Wikimedia Commons, is in the public domain.

It's kind of hard, huh? With only a few sentences, you have to come up with precisely the main idea.

When you are asked about the main idea of an article or essay, it is important to do the same thing: use precise words.

Any piece of writing includes a main idea and supporting details. The difference is that the main idea can be summarized in a sentence or two. The details tell a bit more about the main idea of the writing; usually 3-5 details tell about the main idea.

The following Main Idea and Details video by Jessica Jenkin will help you learn more about the main idea:


One clue to identifying the main idea of a non-fiction passage is to look within the first paragraph (the introduction) or look within the last paragraph (the conclusion). Additional clues to finding the main ideas are as follows:

  • Look for words used frequently throughout the passage
  • View the important vocabulary in the passage
  • Analyze the title of the passage

Listen to the strategies this teacher uses to find the main idea of a paragraph about Gloria Estefan, from Pinedale Reading Coach Main Idea Mini Lesson. Take notes of the strategies the teacher introduces:


Continue on to the Got It! section to dig for the main ideas of some non-fiction articles.

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