Task One


Ideas in a text are either 1) stated directly or 2) implied. This is illustrated below. Read the first two paragraphs of the article, ‘What Chinese Women Really Need’, and complete the exercises that follow.

Viewpoint: What Chinese Women Really Need

BBC News 11th November 2012

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-china-20134699

Mao Zedong once said that in China "women hold up half the sky". But decades on from the revolution that transformed Chinese society, writer Xinran asks whether women really have inherited all that was promised, as part of a series of features on challenges for China's new leaders.

China likes to change drivers every ten years as it continues its journey on the political road it was set upon in the 1950s. Of course, the drivers are always men. This is a real "man-made" culture, even though Mao himself famously gave half the Chinese sky to women. Since then that half-sky has been more about how women should stand up and liberate themselves, in line with global women's liberation movements.

  1. What is the main idea in the following paragraph?

    Chinese women have managed to claim that half-sky quite well - first of all by getting their names back after the 1,000-year old "marriage rules" which endured through centuries of feudalism*. Chinese women now have the right to retain their maiden names.

    *a system in which people received land and protection from a lord when they worked and fought for him

    1. Women had few rights during the centuries of feudalism.
    2. The Chinese Press reports that women have more freedom now than ever before.
    3. Chinese women do not have to give up their family name now when they marry.

    Notice how the answer C. is written differently from the way the main idea appears in the text - Chinese women now have the right to retain their maiden names. The meanings, however, are the same.


    Hide answer.




  2. What is the main idea in the following paragraph?

    Further, women have been freed from the expectation of an arranged marriage and won the right to pursue education, to compete for the same jobs as Chinese men and, most importantly, to be part of China's super-rich.

    1. Chinese women have opportunities for a better education.
    2. Chinese women can lead any kind of life they want now.
    3. Opportunities in life for Chinese women have increased significantly.

    The answer is C. Opportunities in life for Chinese women have increased significantly.

    When a paragraph contains several ideas like this you should ask yourself, ‘What connects all these ideas?’ The connection here is the increase in opportunity for women.

    Too narrow

    Be careful not to see the main idea as too narrow as in A. above. The paragraph does not only mention education opportunities; this is only one of 4 different ideas.

    Too broad

    Be careful not to see the main idea as too broad as in B. above. The paragraph does not say or imply that Chinese women can lead any kind of life they want. This answer is too big.


    Hide answer.



Reprinted with permission from BBC (bbc.co.uk)

Task Two - Practice


Now try finding the main idea yourself. Read the three paragraphs below and in each case decide a) whether you think the main idea is stated or implied and b) what the main idea is. Then click on ‘Check your answer’ to see if you are right. (The texts are from http://www.ereadingworksheets.com)
  1. Being a clown isn’t all fun and games. Rodeo clowns expose themselves to great danger every time they perform. When cowboys dismount or are thrown from bulls at riding competitions, rodeo clowns jump in front of the bulls and motion wildly to get their attention. In this way rodeo clowns provide an alternate target, and in doing so protect the rider. So you see, sometimes clowning around can be serious business.

    The main idea is stated and highlighted below.

    Being a clown isn’t all fun and games. Rodeo clowns expose themselves to great danger every time they perform. When cowboys dismount or are thrown from bulls at riding competitions, rodeo clowns jump in front of the bulls and motion wildly to get their attention. In this way rodeo clowns provide an alternate target, and in doing so protect the rider. So you see, sometimes clowning around can be serious business.

    Main idea: Rodeo clowns put them themselves in danger to protect the riders.


    Hide answer.




  2. There are many types of lethal venom in the animal kingdom, but perhaps no stranger carrier than the platypus. The platypus is one of few venomous mammals. Males carry a venom cocktail in their ankle spurs that incapacitates victims with excruciating pain. Stranger still, the platypus is the only mammal that uses electroreception. What this means is that the platypus uses its bill to sense the electricity produced by the muscular movements of its prey. The platypus neither sees, hears, nor smells its prey while hunting but, rather, pursues it through electroreception. Perhaps most odd, the platypus is the only mammal that lays eggs rather than giving birth to live young. The platypus is an odd creature indeed.

    The main idea is stated, but this time it is a little more difficult to locate.

    There are many types of lethal venom in the animal kingdom, but perhaps no stranger carrier than the platypus. The platypus is one of few venomous mammals. Males carry a venom cocktail in their ankle spurs that incapacitates victims with excruciating pain. Stranger still, the platypus is the only mammal that uses electroreception. What this means is that the platypus uses its bill to sense the electricity produced by the muscular movements of its prey. The platypus neither sees, hears, nor smells its prey while hunting but, rather, pursues it through electroreception. Perhaps most odd, the platypus is the only mammal that lays eggs rather than giving birth to live young. The platypus is an odd creature indeed.

    Main idea: The platypus is a strange and unique creature.


    Hide answer.




  3. When one hears the term “reality” applied to a television show, one might expect that the events portrayed occurred naturally or, at the least, were not scripted, but this is not always the case. Many reality shows occur in unreal environments, like rented mansions occupied by film crews. Such living environments do not reflect what most people understand to be “reality.” Worse, there have been accusations that events not captured on film were later restaged by producers. Worse still, some involved in the production of “reality” television claim that the participants were urged to act out story lines premeditated by producers. With such accusations floating around, it’s no wonder many people take reality TV to be about as real as the sitcom.

    The main idea is implied throughout the paragraph but particularly by the following highlighted phrases.

    When one hears the term “reality” applied to a television show, one might expect that the events portrayed occurred naturally or, at the least, were not scripted, but this is not always the case. Many reality shows occur in unreal environments, like rented mansions occupied by film crews. Such living environments do not reflect what most people understand to be “reality.” Worse, there have been accusations that events not captured on film were later restaged by producers. Worse still, some involved in the production of “reality” television claim that the participants were urged to act out story lines premeditated by producers. With such accusations floating around, it’s no wonder many people take reality TV to be about as real as the sitcom.

    The main idea: Reality TV shows are not really true to life or TV reality shows do not reflect real life.


    Hide answer.




Reprinted with permission from ereadingworksheets.com

Task Three - Tips for locating the main idea


  1. If a point is repeated (perhaps using different words) it is likely to be an important idea.
  2. Be careful not to confuse the ‘topic’ of a paragraph with the ‘main idea’. If you overhear two people mentioning your name you will probably assume the topic of their conversation is ‘you’. But when you ask ‘What are you saying about me?’ you are asking for the main idea of their conversation.
  3. Main ideas may occasionally be preceded by signposts such as – The main reason is … , One significant thing to notice is …
  4. Main ideas may be accompanied by adverbs indicating emphasis such as indeed, in fact, even, absolutely …
  5. Look carefully at the beginnings and endings of paragraphs/texts. Although main ideas do not always occur in these positions, it is a common place to find them.
  6. When you think you have found the main idea test whether the other ideas in the paragraph/text support it.
See if you can spot any of these devices in the previous three paragraphs.
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