Main Idea and Details

The main idea is one sentence that describes what the text is mostly about. The details relate to and support the main idea.

Let's look at a passage!

Polar bears live in ice and snow. A polar
bear baby is a cub. A cub is born with its eyes
closed. It does not have much hair. A cub
drinks its mother's milk. The mother keeps the
cub warm.

The cub grows bigger. Soon the cub can
walk. Its mother shows it how to hunt. She
shows it how to swim. The cub likes to play. It
rolls in the snow.

The cub grows stronger. The cub learns to
swim. It can find its own food. Now the cub
can live by itself.

What is this passage MOSTLY about? It is mostly about polar bear cubs. Remember, the main idea needs to be one sentence that tells what the passage is MOSTLY about.

Possible main idea sentences:
  • As polar bear cubs grow up, they learn many new things.
  • Polar bear cubs stay with their mothers at first, but then are independent.
  • Polar bear cubs are born helpless, but learn how to take care of themselves. All of these sentences tell MOSTLY what the passage is about. Now, let's talk about details. Details are bits of information that the author includes that help support the main idea. For example, the author talks about how the mother polar bear teaches the cub how to hunt and swim. When we read those details, we understand that the mother is teaching the cub useful skills. The details help us to have a clearer picture in our mind of what the author is talking about.

  • Cubs are born without hair and cannot see at birth.
  • The cub grows stronger and learns how to swim and find food.
  • The mother gives the cub milk and keeps it warm.

    All three of these details help us understand that the mother polar bear helps the cub grow up. However, if you read just one of those details, you would not really understand what the WHOLE article was MOSTLY about. If you read one of our three main idea examples, you would know exactly what the passage was mostly about. This is the difference between main idea and details!

    When we read a passage, we can use a main idea & details map to help organize our thoughts. First, fill out important details. Then, reread those details to help understand what the passage was MOSTLY about.