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Main Idea

The 'main idea' reading strategy is typical of many Bagrut questions. It is


important to recognize this pattern in paragraphs and in texts as a whole. Below
are examples and teaching points to help you become more familiar with this
strategy. In addition, there are some sample questions taken from old Bagrut exams
for you to practice.
What is the main idea?

The main idea of a paragraph means finding the most important thought
expressed in that paragraph/text.
When you read you will often find that each paragraph has a main idea of its
own and that there is still another idea for the entire text or story.

Teaching Point and explanation


1. When people began to write, they kept records of events. These records,
known as history, tell us what man's life was like at that time. But life went on
before people learned to write. In fact, there was life on earth long before man
even came along. We learned this from the many fossils that scientists have
found.
The main idea of this paragraph is: (circle the correct answer)
a. When people began to write they kept records of events.
b. There was life on earth long before man came along.
Even though a. is interesting, it is not more important than b. a. simply leads up to b.
by supplying you with a little background. Here the main idea was stated in the
paragraph, but some main ideas are not always stated. Look at the next paragraph.
..........................................................................................................................................
2. A fossil is anything that a living thing leaves behind it to show that it was once
there. Some fossils are found in sedimentary rock and some are found in ice or
frozen ground. One kind of fossil is said to be petrified, which means turned
into stone. Even bones are fossils.
The main idea of this paragraph is:
a. A fossil is anything that a living thing leaves behind it to show that it was once
there.
b. There are many different kinds of fossils.

This is an example of the main idea b. not being stated in the text. a is incorrect
because it is not what most of the information in the paragraph is about. Even though
a. tells you what a fossil is, the overall information in the paragraph is about different
kinds of fossils.
........................................................................................................................................
3. The best place to look for fossils is anywhere the rock breaks through the
earth's cover of soil and plant life. This could be where a river or a road has
cut through a hill or mountain. But even if you live in the city, you can see
fossils if your eyes are sharp. Look at the buildings you pass by. If they are
made of sedimentary rock, you may see fossils in the rock.
The main idea of the paragraph is:
a. It is possible to find fossils almost anywhere.
b. The best place to look for fossils is anywhere the rock breaks through the
earth's crust.
In paragraph 3, the main idea is not stated. a. is correct because the paragraph
leads you to believe that fossils can be found anywhere. b is incorrect because
the paragraph tells you more than the best place to find fossils.
Now that you've looked at the main ideas for each paragraph, select the main idea
for all the paragraphs combined.
a. Nothing is more important to scientists than a fossil.
b. Fossils tell us about life on earth during prehistoric times.
Notice that the main idea is the one that runs through all the paragraphs, not just one:
a. simply is too broad a statement there are many different kinds of scientists, and
most kinds don't even use fossils in their work.
.........................................................................................................................................
Read the following paragraphs. Then select the main idea of each one:
1. People who know a lot about birds think that birds fly south each fall because
their food supply in the north begins to get low at that time. As winter comes
on, insects die or hide away until spring. Snow and ice cover seed-bearing
plants. Days grow short, and there are few hours of daylight in which birds can
search for food. The coldness of winter does not seem to be the reason for
their going south. When birds are fed regularly, they can live outdoors even
where the weather is often very cold.

a. A mistaken idea about birds


b. The flight of the birds
c. Birds need food in the winter, too
d. Birds fly south to find food
..........................................................................................................................................

2. Tourism is a growing industry. United Nations statistics from 1958 showed 55


million tourists in that year; twenty years later the figures were four times that
number. Tourists can provide a source of income to many countries hit by a
steadily rising inflation. Traditionally, both North and South America have
received their share of vacationers. As long as there are people willing to
spend money on their vacations, whether at home or abroad, the tourist
industry will continue to grow.
a. Europe: the center of tourism
b. People spend money on their vacations
c. The recent growth of the tourist industry
d. The Americas are new centers of tourism
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3. Antwerp's Zoo is anxiously watching a tiny bundle of black fur called Victor,
the first mountain gorilla ever born in captivity. Victor's survival will be a big
landmark for conservationists. The mountain gorilla, greatest of the apes, is
fighting a losing battle for survival in the forested heights in central Africa.
Man's continuous search for more land has drastically reduced the 2000- kilo
animal's living space. Many people believe that the only chance for the ape's
survival is breeding it in captivity.
a. A chance to save a species
b. The birth of a gorilla
c. Man's need for land
d. The mountain gorilla of central Africa.
..........................................................................................................................................
4. Bird watchers have seen or heard more groups of small birds traveling south
between the hours of 8 o' clock in the evening and 4 o' clock in the dark hours

of the morning than at any other time. Probably most small birds fly at night
because the darkness protects them from the sharp eyes of their enemies. They
find night travel best, too, because of their feeding habits. They need daylight
to find food. If they traveled most of the day, they would be very tired by
nightfall; then, if they did not find food quickly, they would probably die.
a. The flying habits of small birds
b. Night-flying for food and protection
c. Small birds like to travel
d. Small birds find food at night and fly by day
Now let's look at some Bagrut questions relating to the main idea:
Once the children of Gomera master their unique language, they delight in using it as
a secret code, baffling tourists with the rapid whistles. More importantly, in some
situations El Silbo has the additional advantage of being the most convenient mode of
communication. "Suppose I'm at a friend's house, " says Marcia Garcia, " and I want
my grandfather to pick me up on his way home from work in the fields. I can just
stand in the doorway and whistle my message to him. " Now that's something you
can't do anywhere else in the world.
What is the subject of the above paragraph?
Complete the answer.
The ...................................................................................... of El Silbo.
Source: Bagrut Exam, Summer 2005, Module E.
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Despite his success, Laliberte` has not forgotten his humble-beginnings, and allocates
1% of Cirque du Soleil's annual income to special projects, such as the circus
workshops for homeless children which he runs in 18 countries. "The circus embodies
important values like daring, imagination, solidarity and confidence, making it an
excellent educational tool," he says. Laliberte` also decided to establish his
headquarters and international training center in one of the poorer neighbourhoods of
Montreal. Built ten years ago, the center brought new life into the neighbourhood,
attracting businesses, younger residents and even another circus.
What is the subject of the paragraph above?
Answer: ....................................................................................................

Source: Bagrut Exam, Summer 2005, Module G, Moed bet.