Narration Problems: The Narration Doesn't Include the Main Ideas

by Jimmie

My child will briefly narrate a passage but he leaves out all the main ideas. He doesn't seem to recognize what is important. What should I do?

Selecting the main ideas from a passage is one of the most foundational skills of reading. If you don't grasp the main idea in what you've read, you really haven't understood it at all. Narrating a homeschool lesson will obviously include telling the main idea of the passage along with supporting details. But what if your child struggles to identify the main idea? 

This page is one in a five part series about narration problems. The links to the other articles are below. 

Remember the Game Telephone?

The Main Idea Was Always Lost Along the Way
Talking on the Telephone
Talking on the Telephone

Dealing With Main Idea Confusion


When narrating, my child cannot seem to distinguish the main ideas from the reading passage. She gives some details but often omits the whole point of the text.


This is a huge problem. A narration simply isn't correct if it doesn't cover the main idea. But fortunately, identifying the main idea is a skill that can be taught.

Tips for Teaching How to Find the Main Idea

For Narration and Reading Comprehension

These tips work whether a child is reading independently or listening to you read aloud.

1.  Ask Different Questions

Maybe the problem is the term "main idea." Try using other terminology instead.

  • What is the point?
  • What's the most important idea here?
  • What do you think is the big idea?
  • What is the author trying to say?
  • What is the purpose of what we read?

2. Give Examples

Try to point out main ideas in day to day life

  • After a cartoon or television show, discuss the "main idea" it tried to convey.
  • After someone tells a story, point out the one main idea and the secondary details.

3. Use Highlighters

Give the student a copy of the text which he can mark on. Look for repeated words and mark them. Those are clues to the main idea. The most repeated word is probably the topic. Have your child look for what is being said about the topic. 

Often the main idea is stated clearly somewhere in the passage. Other times the main idea is implied. In that case, , the reader must come to a conclusion on his own based on the details given. This situation is the most challenging for finding the main idea. It requires a much higher cognitive (thinking) function than merely identifying a clearly stated main idea.

4. Check Yourself

When you have a possible main idea, ask if every part of the passage works to express that. If not, you may have selected a supporting detail instead of the main idea.

5. Work Backwards

Look at how paragraphs and essays are structured to express main ideas. Let your child analyze the main ideas and supporting details of his own writing. Use outlines or graphic organizers to make the structure visual.


Main Idea Graphic Organizers

Free Printables

Comprehension Booklet
This PDF has some fantastic main idea graphic organizers.

Main Idea Maps
This PDF includes a simple reproducible graphic organizer and instructions for how to teach with it.

Main Idea Graphic Organizer
This GO has a sewing theme. Very cute.

Main Idea Organizer
Suitable for middle school or older, this GO has lots of room for analyzing a passage or lecture to determine the main idea.

Narrow Down to the Main Idea
A nice printable page that shows the movement from a topic to a main idea.

Narration Problems Series

All the Articles in This Series
My child can narrate, but she mixes in some errors with the facts. How can I help her?
When my middle schooler does a written narration, it is full of spelling errors, grammatical mistakes, and messy handwriting. What should I do?
When my child narrates a reading passage, he adds his own thoughts, imaginations, or even facts he learned elsewhere. Is this a problem?
My child can answer comprehension questions without any problem, but she cannot narrate a passage at all. What can I do?

Practice Finding the Main Idea

With Reproducible Books
Differentiated Activities for Teachin...
Scholastic Teaching Resources (Teaching
$5.98  $19.95
Week-by-Week Homework for Building Re...
Scholastic Teaching Resources (Teaching
$5.49  $1.52
Main Ideas & Summarizing: 35 Reading ...
Teaching Resources
$8.59  $1.35
Main Idea Grade 2 (Practice Makes Per...
Teacher Created Resources
$5.99  $5.79
Main Idea & Details (Reading Passages...
Teaching Resources
$9.89  $2.72
Summarizing, Grades 3 - 4: Focusing o...
Instructional Fair
$4.95  $14.99
Updated: 02/27/2012, Jimmie
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BarbRad on 06/02/2011

Good points. I'm sure this series of articles will be helpful to teachers in schools, as well as to home schoolers.

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