[ The central idea vs main idea ] You are right. There is much confusion and disparity in using the terms Central Idea, Theme, and main idea. And please add topic and topic sentences to that list as well.
Part of the problem here is that these are old slang terms. It did not originate from the sciences (such as psychology and linguistics), so perhaps we should not expect an exact meaning of each.
In the early 1980s, Jim Baumann conducted a series of studies on the concept of the “main idea” and the steps required to teach students to identify main ideas. He found that professional books and teacher guides are everywhere when it comes to the main idea.
The term has been used in many different ways, and it is unlikely that the clear teaching steps in the different programs will lead children to identify the main ideas. His work remains one of the best in how to teach children to do so.
The term ‘main idea’ has been used in various ways for over 200 years. The main idea is sometimes limited to brief phrases about shorter parts of the text, such as paragraphs (for example, the main idea is often used as a synonym for a topic sentence – and often What topic sentence instructions are used as a way to teach the main idea).
But there are also plenty of examples of the main ideas for full texts.
Sometimes the term ‘main idea’ has been reserved to summarize only the main idea or point behind explanatory or informational texts. But even a quick reading of the educational literature reveals a great contradiction in this approach.
The first references to the “main idea” that I encountered point to the main lessons to be learned from the religious histories of the 1850s. The only clear symmetry of the main idea is its focus on the big idea expressed in the text.
The term “central idea” is used at the same time but less frequently, and its use appears to be more general. I think it has become popular as a synonym for the main idea since Baumann’s scout work in the 1980s.
Users may use the main idea to understand it better than what we would have done if they were careful to avoid this confusion. They used the main idea. If so, then they failed. Whatever the main idea of reading is, the central idea is its synonym, nothing more, no less.
Subject Matter in The Central Idea Vs Main Idea
On the other hand, the subject matter is a term that emanates from the literature and is generally incorrect to apply to most informational texts. The topic is the central point or idea of a literary work … it can be expressed in terms of a point of view (for example, unbridled ambition is a danger to everyone) or as a single word (for example, love, death). Literary works generally express multiple, sometimes conflicting, themes.
Readers must learn to coordinate, synthesize, or choose between these objective expressions to arrive at a rich interpretation of the literary work.
It may sometimes be acceptable to use terms such as the main idea or central idea to denote this general objective interpretation. Still, it will not work to apply it to the conflicting issues underlying this general topic of work.
Read Also: What is A Central Idea of The Text?
If these terms are confusing, the instructions can often make matters worse. For example, children often learn that the first sentence of a paragraph expresses its main idea. This is, of course, true. Except in cases where it is the last sentence, one of the intermediate sentences, or it is not explicitly mentioned at all.
Or, students can be taught that the text contains the main idea. Again, a good idea, unless it is not. Consider reading an encyclopedia entry about Japan. Perhaps you could say “the main idea is Japan” (the topic), which is not particularly satisfying (most reading teachers rightly reject this, which is a reasonable description of the purpose of the entry, but it seems a bit essential).
My intuition is that the problem here is that we are trying to cite the main idea when this type of text has many main ideas.
This entry has data about Japan, a country in Asia. It describes the history, politics, military, economy, science, technology, infrastructure, demographics, and culture of Japan. ” It may not be entirely satisfactory yet because it is little more than a series of themes, but I think you will agree that it is much closer than those previous attempts.
Interesting research has been done, with both human readers and computer readers, to develop a working definition of the main idea that would be a little less bland. This paper focused solely on explanatory/informational text and generally addresses the main idea by the number of times it is referenced throughout the text.
The more different sentences related to a particular idea, the more likely it is that they are an integral part of the main idea that the author is trying to expound.
(I wonder if the term “central idea” has recently been picked up as a way of trying to internalize this perception that all other thoughts are connected to some central idea. For example, my wife, Cindy, says that she prefers to think. The main idea is to be at the top of the hierarchy, with all other ideas tied below).
In winter, heavy snow covers Alaska’s Denali National Park and Preserve. It is one of the most fantastic wilderness places in our nation. The desert extends over 6 million acres. This is bigger than New Hampshire. It is home to the highest peak in North America and wolves, elk, hares, and brown bears.
Denali is also home to a unique team of dog park sitters. Alaskan Huskies, 31, pull sleds, helping transport zookeepers and loads of heavy equipment into the snow.
It is an important job. With temperatures as low as -40 degrees in Denali winters, sled dog “sleds” are a more reliable means of transportation. Motor vehicles or snowmobiles cannot start in the cold. Additionally, dogs can keep their human caregivers’ feet warm at night.
In February, Jennifer Raphael, the dog breeder, and ranger go on a field trip to the park for a month. The dogs will pull the sleds that are full of equipment. Rangers will patrol and collect data for scientists in hard-to-reach locations near Wonder Lake, fed by the park’s glaciers.
What is the Main Idea Vs Central idea of the first paragraph?
It is not the first sentence. I don’t think it’s possible to identify any sentence from paragraph 1 as the main idea. Perhaps one could craft a main idea statement by combining 1 and 2 sentences, although this omits much of the important information.
From a paragraph like this, it’s easy to see why someone might conclude that the main themes and ideas are the same. But I don’t buy that the clue in the paragraph is “Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska.” Maybe this is like an encyclopedia entry – the main idea is how amazing Denali National Park is in how big and what it is.
In paragraph 2, it might be helpful to ignore the first sentence. An excellent top clue for this might be: In Denali, zookeepers rely on sled dogs for transportation.
The main idea of paragraph 3 seems to be in the middle: sled dogs are a more reliable means of transportation in Denali than machines because they handle cold weather better than machines. And finally, in paragraph 4, the dogs help the park rangers reach the park parts that are difficult to access.
Although it is possible to propose “main ideas” for each of these paragraphs, the full text can also be said to contain a general point or main idea. This is where it can help to notice and point out recurring thoughts.
Denali’s challenge (its size, weather, transportation issues, etc.) is in all four paragraphs. The ability of dogs to overcome these problems is noted in paragraphs 2, 3, and 4, as is the idea that the abilities of these dogs depend on Denali guards.
The main idea of this, given the number of iterations that each of these ideas has to do with each other, could lead to something like “Denali National Park is very big, cold and snowy, so transportation is difficult. Because of this, Denali Rangers must rely on sled dogs for transportation. “
The big exclusion (or my main idea)?
Despite all the chaos of these terms. All agree that good readers should make these kinds of short statements about the main, main, main, main, or, above all, central ideas for informational texts and controversies.
Good readers can also identify multiple themes from literary texts. See my previous blog post on what it means to teach the attribute.
Good readers should identify these main ideas, the ones that define the point of the text or the ideas that are mentioned or mentioned most frequently in the text, along with the paragraphs, sections of the text, and the full text.
These main idea phrases can be presumed to be so general (such as mentioning the Denali or Japan topics). They can be very specific (citing many specific details rather than a generalization that embodies the whole set of ideas). In other words, they have to learn to recognize the main idea of Goldilocks, the “absolutely correct” idea.
Textbooks and government educational standards use these terms somewhat inconsistently and interchangeably. This only reveals the flaws of the language when dealing with ideas so abstract that they vary greatly depending on the context (consider the various examples above).
Don’t be fooled by these linguistic contradictions. There are no hidden nuances for you. You have to cultivate the ability to capture these great ideas from various texts in a variety of genres.