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Reading and Finding The Main Idea Help (page 2)

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Updated on Sep 21, 2011

Topic Sentences

You'll notice that in the paragraph about the postal service, the main idea is expressed clearly in the first sentence: "Today's postal service is more efficient and reliable than ever before." A sentence, such as this one, that clearly expresses the main idea of a paragraph or passage is often called a topic sentence.

In many cases, as in the postal service paragraph, the topic sentence is at the beginning of the paragraph. You will also frequently find it at the end. Less often, but on occasion, the topic sentence may be in the middle of the passage. Whatever the case, the topic sentence—like "Today's postal service is more efficient and reliable than ever before"—is an assertion, and it needs "proof." The proof is found in the facts and ideas that make up the rest of the passage. (Not all passages provide such a clear topic sentence that states the main idea. Less obvious passages will come up in later lessons.)

Identifying Topic Sentences Practice and Answers

Remember that a topic sentence is a clear statement of the main idea of a passage; it must be general enough to encompass all the ideas in that passage, and it usually makes an assertion about the subject of that passage. Knowing all that, you can answer the following question even without reading a passage.

Practice 1

Which of the following sentences is general enough to be a topic sentence?

  1. The new health club has a great kickboxing class.
  2. Many different classes are offered by the health club.
  3. Pilates is a popular class at the health club.
  4. The yoga class is offered on Saturday mornings.

Answers

The answer is choice b, "Many different classes are offered by the health club." Choices a, c, and d are all specific examples of what is said in choice b, so they are not general enough to be topic sentences.

Practice 2

Now look at the following paragraph. Underline the sentence that expresses the main idea, and notice how the other sentences work to support that main idea.

Erik always played cops and robbers when he was a boy; now, he's a police officer. Suzanne always played school as a little girl; today, she is a high-school math teacher. Kara always played store; today, she owns a chain of retail clothing shops. Long before they are faced with the question, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" some lucky people know exactly what they want to do with their lives.

Answer

Which sentence did you underline? You should have underlined the last sentence: "Long before they are faced with the question 'What do you want to be when you grow up?' some lucky people know exactly what they want to do with their lives." This sentence is a good topic sentence; it expresses the idea that holds together the whole paragraph. The first three sentences—about Erik, Suzanne, and Kara—are specific examples of these lucky people. Notice that the topic sentence is found at the end of the paragraph.

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