Paths to Student Success: Understanding the Main Idea

By: Andrew Turgeon, Enrollment Services Coordinator

American college students and professors agree: in order to understand your reading you need to get to its main idea.  This week at the A.C.E. Language Institute at SPU, Andrea Taylor guided her Level 2 Reading & Writing course through the main ideas about understanding the Main Idea.

Starting off small, students first presented topic sentences about “being afraid”.  Andrea helped them to understand that the topic sentence and the main idea of a reading are similar if not identical.  Thus, one student’s topic sentence about her sister being afraid of the dark introduces the main idea of the paragraph: being afraid of the dark.  Why is her sister afraid of the dark?  What does or doesn’t she do because she is afraid? The topic sentence gets us ready to read more about the main idea.  When we know the main idea, we are stepping into our reading with confidence.  A simple but essential rule in reading comprehension.

The advantage to focusing on the main idea, as Andrea explained, is that it speeds up the reading process.  If students can find and describe the main idea, they will be able to read the paragraph more quickly.  This speed reading takes practice and is taught in all of A.C.E.’s levels of instruction.  Andrea’s Level 2 class practiced speed reading through two exercises.  In the first, students had four minutes to match a word to its identical from a row of five words.  This helps students stay focused on the main subjects of a reading.   Then they moved to reading a story and answering five questions in under four minutes.  These speed readings get more complex with time, ultimately transforming basic readers of sentences and grammar rules into sophisticated analysts of novels and writing tone.

Although just beginning this reading journey, Andrea’s Level 2 class is moving forward with a sure step.  They understand the subjects of sentences and can detect the main idea of a reading with a good amount of accuracy.  And this only in their first week of class! Soon enough, these students will approach any research paper, bestseller, or academic essay with the utmost confidence. In doing so, they are getting to the Main Idea of A.C.E. Language Institutes: preparing students for success in American universities.

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