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Finding Topics and Main Ideas

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  1. Finding Topics and Main Ideas Tools for reading nonfiction

  2. Finding Topics • To understand a paragraph, it’s important to find the topic • The topic is the idea to which all of the details in the paragraph refer • A topic is usually expressed as a word or phrase

  3. Can you find the topic? Water is an amazing resource. Everyone in the world depends upon it. Every creature needs water to survive. Without water, we would not last long. Water makes our world beautiful.

  4. Can you find the topic? Water is an amazing resource. Everyone in the world depends upon it. Every creature needs water to survive. Without water, we would not last long. Water makes our world beautiful. Topic = WATER

  5. We could see that the topic was water because it was repeated again and again • This is a good way to help us find a topic—looking for repeated words or phrases

  6. Now try this one! Colonial Williamsburg is a great place to visit. In Williamsburg, you can see how people lived in colonial times. There are guides in costumes who can show you to taverns, shops, and houses. You can even sample some colonial food at the restored taverns! One visit to Williamsburg will make you feel as if you have been transported to the 1700s.

  7. Now try this one! Colonial Williamsburg is a great place to visit. In Williamsburg, you can see how people lived in colonial times. There are guides in costumes who can show you to taverns, shops, and houses. You can even sample some colonial food at the restored taverns! One visit to Williamsburg will make you feel as if you have been transported to the 1700s.

  8. We could tell that the topic of the paragraph is Williamsburg because it was repeated several times

  9. Finding the topic • The topic of a paragraph is not always repeated over and over in the same way • Sometimes, you need to look for multiple referents—that is, words or phrases that refer to the same thing

  10. Looking for multiple referents Here is the Williamsburg paragraph again. Notice how Williamsburg can be replaced by other words or phrases: Colonial Williamsburg is a great place to visit. In this Virginia town, you can see how people lived in colonial times. There are guides in costumes who can show you to taverns, shops, and houses. You can even sample some colonial food at the restored taverns! One visit to this place will make you feel as if you have been transported to the 1700s.

  11. Williamsburg is referred to in several different ways • This Virginia town and this place both refer back to Williamsburg • The topic is still Williamsburg

  12. Look for the topic in this paragraph Assateague Island is a very special place. A long sandy beach stretches into the Atlantic Ocean. Windswept dunes are home to foxes and seagulls. The famous wild horses, or ponies, also live on this small island.

  13. Look for the topic in this paragraph Assateague Island is a very special place. A long sandy beach stretches into the Atlantic Ocean. Windswept dunes are home to foxes and seagulls. The famous wild horses, or ponies, also live on this small island.

  14. Did you figure out the topic? • Authors sometimes refer to the same idea in different ways • “Assateague Island” and “this small island” are really the same place • When you are trying to figure out a topic, look for different ways of saying the same thing

  15. Using topics to find main ideas • Once we have figured out the topic of a paragraph, we need to find the main idea • The main idea is the main point of the paragraph MAIN IDEA = Topic + a statement about the topic

  16. Can you find the main idea? Water is an amazing resource. Everyone in the world depends upon it. Every creature needs water to survive. Without water, we would not last long. Water makes our world beautiful.

  17. Can you find the main idea? Water is an amazing resource. Everyone in the world depends upon it. Every creature needs water to survive. Without water, we would not last long. Water makes our world beautiful.

  18. Did you find the main idea? • The first sentence is the main idea • Water is an amazing resource • The topic = water • The main point about the topic = it’s an amazing resource

  19. Now try this one! Colonial Williamsburg is a great place to visit. In Williamsburg, you can see how people lived in colonial times. There are guides in costumes who can show you to taverns, shops, and houses. You can even sample some colonial food at the restored taverns! One visit to Williamsburg will make you feel as if you have been transported to the 1700s.

  20. Now try this one! Colonial Williamsburg is a great place to visit. In Williamsburg, you can see how people lived in colonial times. There are guides in costumes who can show you to taverns, shops, and houses. You can even sample some colonial food at the restored taverns! One visit to Williamsburg will make you feel as if you have been transported to the 1700s.

  21. Did you find the main idea? • Once again, the main idea was in the first sentence • Topic = Williamsburg • Main point about the topic= it’s a great place to visit

  22. Is the first sentence always the main idea? • What do you think? Talk about it with your partner!

  23. Think about this paragraph Croak, croak, kerplop! What’s that at the water’s edge? It might be a green frog, a creature that’s well-suited for life at the pond’s edge. Green frogs like to live where the land meets the water. This keeps them safe from predators that live on the land. When a predator like a snake comes near, the green frog can quickly leap into the water and get away. Green frogs can eat animals from both places, including crayfish, spiders, fish, and even birds.

  24. Is the first sentence the main idea? Croak, croak, kerplop! What’s that at the water’s edge? It might be a green frog, a creature that’s well-suited for life at the pond’s edge. Green frogs like to live where the land meets the water. This keeps them safe from predators that live on the land. When a predator like a snake comes near, the green frog can quickly leap into the water and get away. Green frogs can eat animals from both places, including crayfish, spiders, fish, and even birds.

  25. That doesn’t make sense! • Croak, croak, kerplop! can’t be the main idea of the paragraph • This sentence does not express a topic or a main point about the topic

  26. Let’s find the topic first Croak, croak, kerplop! What’s that at the water’s edge? It might be a green frog, a creature that’s well-suited for life at the pond’s edge. Green frogs like to live where the land meets the water. This keeps them safe from predators that live on the land. When a predator like a snake comes near, the green frog can quickly leap into the water and get away. Green frogs can eat animals from both places, including crayfish, spiders, fish, and even birds.

  27. Let’s find the topic first Croak, croak, kerplop! What’s that at the water’s edge? It might be a green frog, a creature that’s well-suited for life at the pond’s edge. Green frogs like to live where the land meets the water. This keeps them safe from predators that live on the land. When a predator like a snake comes near, the green frog can quickly leap into the water and get away. Green frogs can eat animals from both places, including crayfish, spiders, fish, and even birds.

  28. Let’s look at the second sentence Croak, croak, kerplop! What’s that at the water’s edge? It might be a green frog, a creature that’s well-suited for life at the pond’s edge. Green frogs like to live where the land meets the water. This keeps them safe from predators that live on the land. When a predator like a snake comes near, the green frog can quickly leap into the water and get away. Green frogs can eat animals from both places, including crayfish, spiders, fish, and even birds.

  29. Is it the main idea? • Do you think that the second sentence, What’s that at the water’s edge? is the main idea? • This doesn’t make sense either. The paragraph is not mostly about the water’s edge

  30. What about the third sentence? Croak, croak, kerplop! What’s that at the water’s edge? It might be a green frog, a creature that’s well-suited for life at the pond’s edge. Green frogs like to live where the land meets the water. This keeps them safe from predators that live on the land. When a predator like a snake comes near, the green frog can quickly leap into the water and get away. Green frogs can eat animals from both places, including crayfish, spiders, fish, and even birds.

  31. Is it the main idea? • Is the third sentence, It might be a green frog, a creature that’s well-suited for life at the pond’s edge the main idea? • This sentence includes the TOPIC (green frog) and a main point about the topic (it’s well-suited for life at the pond’s edge)

  32. Hooray! The main idea! • As you can see, the first sentence is not always the main idea • To find the main idea, you need to think about the topic of the paragraph • Look at each sentence until you find the best main idea sentence

  33. Now try this one What a gorgeous view! Kings Gap State Park is a great place to see the Cumberland Valley. This is because the park was built on top of a mountain. From the mountain top, the fields and farms of the valley stretch out far below. The Doubling Gap, a mountain that curves like the letter s, can also be seen.

  34. How do we find the main idea? • Start by finding the topic • Then look at each sentence in the paragraph • Look for the sentence that states the topic and gives a main point about the topic • Once you think you have found it, match it against the rest of the sentences

  35. Finding the topic What a gorgeous view! Kings Gap State Park is a great place to see the Cumberland Valley. This is because the park was built on top of a mountain. From the mountain top, the fields and farms of the valley stretch out far below. The Doubling Gap, a mountain that curves like the letter s, can also be seen.

  36. Finding the topic What a gorgeous view! Kings Gap State Park is a great place to see the Cumberland Valley. This is because the park was built on top of a mountain. From the mountain top, the fields and farms of the valley stretch out far below. The Doubling Gap, a mountain that curves like the letter s, can also be seen.

  37. Finding the topic • The topic, then, is Kings Gap State Park • To find the main idea, we need to understand what the paragraph is saying about Kings Gap State Park

  38. Let’s try the first sentence What a gorgeous view! Kings Gap State Park is a great place to see the Cumberland Valley. This is because the park was built on top of a mountain. From the mountain top, the fields and farms of the valley stretch out far below. The Doubling Gap, a mountain that curves like the letter s, can also be seen.

  39. Not the main idea • The first sentence, What a gorgeous view, does not state the main idea • It does not state the topic of the paragraph

  40. What about the second sentence? What a gorgeous view! Kings Gap State Park is a great place to see the Cumberland Valley. This is because the park was built on top of a mountain. From the mountain top, the fields and farms of the valley stretch out far below. The Doubling Gap, a mountain that curves like the letter s, can also be seen.

  41. Better! • The second sentence, Kings Gap State Park is a great place to see the Cumberland Valley, includes both a topic and a main idea • Let’s see if all of the other sentences in the paragraph relate back to it

  42. Do the rest of the sentences relate? What a gorgeous view! Kings Gap State Park is a great place to see the Cumberland Valley. This is because the park was built on top of a mountain. From the mountain top, the fields and farms of the valley stretch out far below. The Doubling Gap, a mountain that curves like the letter s, can also be seen. The rest of the sentences do relate back to the second sentence. It’s the main idea.

  43. What have we learned? • What is the topic of a text? The topic is the word or phrase that all of the sentences in a paragraph refer to • What is a main idea? The main idea of a paragraph is the topic, plus a feeling or attitude about the topic

  44. What have we learned? • Is the main idea of a paragraph always the first sentence? No! Sometimes the main idea appears in other parts of the paragraph • How do we find the main idea? We need to think about the topic, and look for a sentence that includes the topic plus a main point about the topic

  45. Does every paragraph work like this? • Yes! Every paragraph in the whole universe is like this and you will never have to think hard again • No, some paragraphs are different. Sometimes the paragraph has the topic sentence at the end of the paragraph. Sometimes the author leaves out the main idea altogether, and we need to figure it out

  46. And the answer is… • The answer, of course, is B • While most paragraphs do have a stated main idea, some do not • Sometimes this is because the author wants to make the reader think more carefully • (Dark secret) Sometimes it’s because the author just didn’t write the paragraph very well!

  47. But these guidelines usually do work • Find the topic of the paragraph • See if the first sentence states the main idea • If not, check other sentences in the paragraph • Find the sentence that includes the topic and states a main point about the topic • Make sure that the other sentences in the paragraph relate back to the main idea

  48. Fun stuff for the end…. • Can you find the frog in this picture?

  49. Fun stuff for the end…. • What about this one?

  50. Reflect on what you’ve learned • What have you learned about topics and main ideas?