How to Find Main ideas


Steps in Reading to Find the Main Idea


The main idea in a piece of writing is the point the author is making about a topic. Use the following steps to find the main idea.




Look for meaning clues in introductions, titles, chapter headings, subheadings, bold words, boxed information, pictures, charts, and graphs. This will help you discover the topic being discussed (what the writing is about), the author’s “slant” or perspective on the topic how the material is organized, and what’s more and less important. During previewing you may also form questions about the topic. Having questions in mind as you read will help you establish a purpose for reading, and you will be more involved as you read, which will help you absorb new information.



Read the entire text, looking for the general idea or ideas being presented. Re-read to find and highlight key words and concepts.




Focus on individual paragraphs within the text, starting at the beginning. Generally, each paragraph in a piece of writing about a topic is a group of sentences dealing with one idea related to that topic. The following steps will help you find the main idea in a paragraph, the particular point the author is trying to make about the topic.


Look for transition words


Words and phrases such as “thus,” “first,” “next,” “however,” and “in addition,” often indicate shifts in thought and signal the presence of examples and supporting details.


Identify the most general statement


Sometimes the main idea of a paragraph is directly stated in a sentence, called the topic sentence of the paragraph. Although it is often found at the beginning or end, the topic sentence can be found anywhere in the paragraph. It is typically the most general sentence, and the remaining sentences provide specific evidence and discussion to “back up” the main idea expressed in the topic sentence.


Look for supporting evidence and discussion


Sometimes the main idea is not directly stated in one sentence but is implied or suggested by all of the sentences in the paragraph. In this case, the reader must provide the main idea by considering all of the support–the examples, details, facts, etc.–and discussion about the topic provided by the writer. The main idea will be a general statement which incorporates the information presented by all of the sentences in the paragraph.





An outline presents a picture of the main ideas and the supporting ideas of a paragraph. The skill of outlining will help you organize and remember what you hear or read. Outlining means to write information in order, from the most important to the least important. Main topics, subtopics and details are the important parts of an outline. Outlining will help you learn how to take notes notes and remember the main ideas of what you’ve read.


I. Title    An outline always has a title that tells you what the outline is about.


II.  Main Topics (Use the heading of each chapter section for these)


Use Roman numerals for each main topic. Write each main topic in the same way. Write in sentences or phrases, but capitalize the first word. A main topic is a very important idea and is comparable to the headings in textbooks. Below are Roman numerals for your review.

  • I = 1
  • II = 2
  • III = 3
  • IV = 4
  • V = 5
  • VI = 6
  • VII = 7
  • VIII = 8
  • IX = 9
  • X =10


II.  Subtopics


Use a capital letter before each subtopic: A,B,C,etc. Indent subtopics under the main topics. Subtopics give more information about the main topic.

III. Details

Use an Arabic numeral for each detail under subtopics: 1.2.3.etc. Indent details under subtopics. A detail is an extra piece of information that helps make the subtopic clearer.

Sample Outline Format:


  I. Main topic

A. Subtopic

  1. Detail

           a. Sub-detail

              1) Additional details

            b. Second Sub-detail

      2. Second Detail

B. Next Subtopic

What your outline must have:

1. Main idea of each paragraph (UNDERLINED)

2. New vocabulary in bold print (CIRCLED)

3. Answers to all section objectives (NUMBERED & WRITTEN IN RED INK))

4. All assigned charts/tables WITHIN EACH SECTION

5. All assigned labeled drawings WITHIN THE RIGHT SECTION & NOT AT THE END!



Sample Outline


Cornell Notes



Connections ColumnNotes Column
In this column, write one of the following:

  • Heading or Subheadings
  • Questions from reading
  • Vocabulary
In this column, write the following:
  • Topic of each paragraph
  • Main idea of each paragraph(s)
  • Bold, underlined, or italicized words & their meaning
  • Answers to questions
  • Supporting ideas & information
  • Examples
In this column also, use these hints to faster note taking:
  • Abbreviate familiar words
  • Use symbols when possible (+, =, )
  • Take notes in bullets!
  • Cut unnecessary words
Summary: Summarize what you read/lecture; write the 5 most important points of the section/lecture; &/or write questions you still have to answer.

Click here for blank note sheet

Click here for sample lecture note sheet


Biology Notebooks

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Special Instructions:

  1. Use a 1-2″, 3-ring binder as your notebook.
  2. The cover of your notebook should have your name , subject, & period only! Do not include any other writing, pictures, etc
  3. A master cover sheet with your name & period must be clipped into your notebook as the first sheet.
  4. Dividers with tabs labeled with the name of each section must be included.
  5. All papers must be clipped into the notebook in the correct order.
  6. Notebooks must be brought to class each day!
  7. Students will only receive credit for their notebook each nine weeks IF it is kept in order!

Notebook Sections:


  • Materials needed, class rules, notebook guidelines, How to write lab reports, how to write 3-point essays, Essays and Due dates


  • Include a cover sheet for each chapter with its number & title
  • Chapter work should be in the following order — outlines/notes 1st, handouts 2nd, puzzles/worksheets 3rd, study guides last
  • Each sheet must have the chapter & title and your name, date, & period


  • Printed from computer by teacher approximately every 3 weeks

How to Fail

How to Fail  

  1. Always arrive late.
  2. Never slip into your desk quietly.  Instead, make a “big production” of entering the room by interrupting the class in session, dropping your books on the floor, etc.
  3. Better yet, don’t have your books with you .
  4. Never bring a pencil to class.  Always borrow someone’s and forget to give  it back.
  5. Never bring notebook paper.  Let other people spend their money on paper and you just keep borrowing from them.
  6. Use the paper you borrowed to write a note.  After you finish, make a big deal out of passing – or better yet, “throwing” it across  the room to someone else disturbing as many people as possible.
  7. Never, ever, do your homework.  The teacher will admire your consistency.
  8. Lose your textbook the first few weeks of school so you will have an excuse for not reading your assignments.
  9. During class, doodle on your notebook with a pen.
  10. Draw as much attention to yourself as possible by being loud, starting arguments, etc.
  11. Groan a lot.
  12. Say, “This is BORING!” loudly every five minutes or so, especially if the classroom is quiet.
  13. Ask, “Why do we have to do this stuff?” as often as possible.
  14. After the teacher says, “turn to page 36”, say, “What page?”
  15. When your group or partner is depending on you, show up unprepared. Better yet, don’t show up at all.
  16. Turn in all of your assignments incomplete.
  17. If  you absolutely can’t talk in class, fall asleep instead of working  on your next assignment.
  18. When you get your test back with an “F”, shout, “This isn’t fair! The teacher hates me!”
  19. Never show concern about your grade until the last day of the grading period.  Then ask the teacher for extra credit you can do to make up all the missing and failing assignments.
  20. If the teacher says, “No”, throw a fit.
  21. Tease the student that sits in front of you by banging the back of their chair or making strange noises.
  22. Tease the student that sits in front of you by taking their assignment, notebook, or pencil. Remember to keep an innocent look on your face.
  23. Stay up as late as possible so you will be sleepy in class.
  24. Always chew gum loudly and leave candy wrappers laying in the room for someone else to pick up.
  25. If you have a report to do, always copy it word-for-word from the ‘World Book Encyclopedia”.
  26. If you decide to do homework, make sure you copy it from someone else.
  27. If you decide to do your homework for fifth period English, be sure you do it during fourth period biology.
  28. Don’t take notes.  If you followed items #4 and #5, this should not be a problem.


“Remember that no one has the right to interfere with the learning of another.”


Following these rules will ensure that you fail and must repeat the class for a second time.


Tips on Doing Well in Biology

Tips on Doing Well in Biology

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The most common problem new students have is that their study skills are not adequate for high school level classes. Studying for classes involves more than just “cramming the night before a test.”  The following are suggestions to improve your grade in biology and other high school courses.

  1. Prepare for class before coming by reading over your notes soon after you have written them and also read over the sections of your text that will be covered in that day’s lecture.
  2. Make and use a vocabulary list as you go.
  3. Do all worksheets, study questions, etc.
  4. Keep your handouts, lecture notes, and study questions organized in a notebook.
  5. Always read assigned material and make sure you outline all the main ideas and not just a single item in a section.
  6. Pay attention and don’t daydream in class.
  7. Study frequently and in small doses. Cramming does not foster long term understanding that will stick with you!
  8. Set up a study group and study with friends.
  9. Understand figures and diagrams from lecture and from your text.
  10. If you are having trouble with the material, get help early.  Do not wait until TEST DAY!!!


Preparing an Abstract

Preparing an Abstract

All Materials © Cmassengale

An abstract is a summary or synopsis of an article in a journal or magazine.  The purpose of preparing an abstract is to acquaint you with scientific literature and to expose you to current topics in biology.

Special Instructions:

  • Articles to be abstracted must be at least two pages (text) in length.
  • Work cited must be included at the top of the abstract page.
  • Triple space between the citation & the start of your paper
  • Abstracts must be handwritten and at least two and a half pages in length.
  • Write your name, date, and period at the top of the abstract.

    Click here  to view an example of an abstract

Pre-AP Biology Abstracts

AP Biology Abstracts