Helping Your Child Find the Main Idea

By Kathy Stemke

It is important that children learn how to discern the main idea of a paragraph or a story as early as possible. State-mandated tests often include reading comprehension sections where the child is expected to be able to pick out the main idea. More importantly, when they master this skill their reading comprehension will improve markedly, and they will enjoy reading much more.

Many children think that the first line of a story or essay is always the main idea. To help them understand that the main idea is what the whole story is about tell them to “think of a story as a meal.” It starts with an appetizer whose job it is to entice the reader to continue. We often call this first paragraph the introduction. It’s followed by the side dishes which add a variety of flavors to the story, or additional information to make it fuller. The main dish is the meat of the meal or the main focus, the main idea. Dessert is the final part of the meal where the story winds down to a conclusion.

What we are looking for in the main idea of a story is simply the main course of the dinner, the “meat.” A good way for children to start this process is by putting things in categories such as things you wear, fruits, or vegetables. When they come up with a list of clothing items, discuss that the broad term or main idea is that they are all things you wear.

Next, go into finding the actual main idea of stories. Start with non-fiction books, because they are much easier for a young child to understand. Then, go into fiction stories. Here are a couple of games that will help children practice finding the topic sentence or main idea.

Guess the Topic!

Write a paragraph that doesn't have a topic sentence and have the child guess the topic. Just write supporting sentences.

For example, you could say, "You color with them. They come in many different colors. You can make beautiful pictures with them." When they guess crayons, ask them if it would have been easier to start the paragraph with, "I love crayons?"

Topic Sentence Match Up!

Understanding the main idea of a paragraph can be tough for beginning readers. Here's an exercise you can do to help them see the difference between the main idea and the supporting facts.

Write each topic sentence on a separate index card.

Topic: Dogs are friendly animals.
Topic: I love the winter.
Topic: Candy isn't good for you.

Write each detail on a separate index card.

Detail: They are always waiting for their owners to come home.
Detail: They want to sit with you.
Detail: There are a lot of fun things to do, like sledding and snowball fights.
Detail: We go skiing.
Detail: Every time I eat it, I get a stomachache.
Detail: It's not good for my teeth.

Mix them all up, turn them face up, and match up a topic with two details.

Main Idea Flower Diagram

Another great teaching tool is to diagram the main idea of a paragraph by using a picture of a flower with a thick stem, a large round center and four long petals. The main idea goes on the stem. The topic sentence is written in the center. The four details are written on the petals.

Soon your child will be picking the main idea out of every paragraph or story. This skill will help them understand what they are reading. Better reading comprehension skills will build a firm foundation for your child's education. This is necessary for understanding textbooks in science and social studies. When they understand what they are reading, they will retain more information, and enjoy learning.

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Literary Journal Publishes Poetry, Photography, Stores

Karen, founder of Writers on the Move, invited me to drop by occasionally to add resources or information that might benefit her blog visitors. I thought many would like to know about this literary journal that publishes a number of stories and poems each year.

Editors of the literary journal Manzanita, Poetry and Prose of the Mother Lode and Sierra announce that it will include the poetry of UCLA Extension Writers’ Program instructor Carolyn Howard-Johnson in it’s sixth issue to be released in April.

The journal is an affiliate of Calavaras Arts Council. It is a printed literary collection of poetry, prose, art and photography of the Mother Lode and Sierra regions of California and features work that appeals to the sensibilities of readers in that area from writers and artists across the U.S. It is edited by Monika Rose and poetry editor is Julia Holzer.

The poem selected is "Sacred Lessons from the Sierra Madre" and features impressions from Carolyn's travels in the Sierras in Mexico. Her poetry has appeared in literary journals like the Mochila Review, Banyan Review, Pear Noir and Poetic Voices. One of her poems won a reader award at The Pedestal Magazine.

Howard-Johnson has studied at UCLA with Suzanne Lummis, editor of Speechless the Magazine ( where her chapbook Tracings, winner of Military Writers Society of America’s Award of Excellence and published by Finishing Line Press, was featured in 2005.

The poet's literary novel, This Is the Place, has won eight awards. Her book of creative nonfiction has won three. She is developing a new Celebration Series of poetry chapbooks with Magdalena Ball. Among them are She Wore Emerald Then: Reflections on Motherhood and Cherished Pulse: Unconventional Love Poetry. She also advocates with authors as the author of the multi award-winning HowToDoItFrugally series of books for writers (

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Support Materials available on request.

Selling Books from Own Web Site Vs Amazon

Contributed by Carolyn Howard-Johnson

This came in as a response to my recent blog post on Amazon at Sharing with Writers. 
 Because it is from an independent publishing expert, Michael N. Marcus, I thought Writers on the Move would like to see his views, especially because I hear so often that small publishers and independent authors are eschewing Amazon.

By Michael N. Marcus

I can't understand why writers want to sell books from their own websites (or from vanity publishers' websites) instead of from Amazon or B&N, etc.
The 20% that the online booksellers keep on a $20 book is $4.

If a self-publisher ships it from the publisher's own inventory, the flat-rate Priority Mail fee is $4.85 (more than what would be paid to Amazon).
The fee for shipping one pound by Media Mail is $2.38 (less than what would be paid to Amazon), but the service is slower than Priority Mail and does not include delivery confirmation. Confirmation adds about 70 cents.

Lightning Source charges from $3.80 to over $40 to drop-ship a book to a publisher's customer. However, the shipping fee is built-into the printing fee for orders placed through online booksellers. (Printing and shipping a 300-page book to an Amazon customer costs $5.40.)

So, Priority Mail costs a little bit more than what Amazon or B&N or other online booksellers would keep, and Media Mail costs a little bit less. The numbers change depending on the cover price and weight of a book.
But when you consider that many millions of potential buyers can find a book by searching on or B&N, but almost no one will find the book on an author's own site without a lot of PR and paid advertising to send them there, relying on the big booksellers should be a no-brainer.

Michael N. Marcus
~president of the Independent Self-Publishers Alliance,
~author of "Become a Real Self-Publisher: Don’t be a Victim of a Vanity Press,"
~author of "Stories I'd Tell My Children (but maybe not until they're adults)."
~Blogging at

Those who would like to see more thought-provoking articles on publishing will want to subscribe to my award-winning blog, Sharing with Writers ( and to my interactive newsletter by sending an e-mail with SUBSCRIBE in the subject line to

An Adoption Story

A dear friend of mine recently had surgery and was unable to share a special celebration with her daughter, one they have celebrated together every year for the last ten years. So in lieu of going out to commemorate a special occasion, she wrote this and shared it with me. I don't mind telling you I was deeply touched. I asked her if I could post it on my blog, and she said yes. I hope you like it, too. My friend's name is Robin Cross, and Robin writes:

So everyone always asks me... "How did you end up adopting Sara?", and every time I tell the story I cry. Even ten years later, my eyes are watering even now just thinking about it.

I was divorced, teaching special education, coaching volleyball, volunteering at the boys and girls club, had just finished my masters degree, was singing in the church choir, teaching Sunday school, ... good grief, I was doing anything I could to stay busy! I had decided that because I'd been divorced twice and was childless that there probably wasn't any hope of my ever having any children. I was 37, there were no romantic prospects in the picture, and I wasn't getting any younger or any less single.

Through my work in special education, I befriended a "case worker" for foster children who was assigned to more than one child in my classroom over a couple of years' time. I began talking to her about how much I wanted a child, and how unlikely it was that any agency would grant me that wish since I was single. She said that if I was serious, she'd bring me the papers to get started. I was shocked!! But, I jumped at the chance.

Nicole brought me a HUGE stack of documents to fill out that asked pretty much everything about me except how many times a day I went to the bathroom. I filled them out in record time and turned them back in. Since I had recently completed a master's degree in counseling, I was waivered for most of the foster parenting classes that were required. She took the papers from me the first week of February, and told me to do whatever I needed to to get my house ready for a little girl. She said the process was long and arduous, so I'd have at least acouple of months.

I had this "junk room", the only other bedroom in the house, that was filled to the ceiling with stuff I couldn't find a place for. I wanted to tackle it, but I had time so I didn't. Three weeks later, I got the call from Nicole that she had a little girl for me to meet! Oh My Goodness!!! How could that be? Two months had NOT passed yet!! So much to do!! Oh MY GOODNESS!!! The call came on Wednesday, and the child would come to spend the weekend with me. I was at work, so I basically had two days!!

I took off the rest of the day and the following two days, went straight to knoxville to find the perfect bedroom furniture fit for a little girl but that could grow with her as a teen, which I did, and miraculously they said they could deliver it Friday morning!! WOW!! Never in a million years would that ever happen again! I then rushed home and began emptying the "junkroom". For the next day and a half, which is still a blur, I peeled very old wallpaper off, painted the bedroom a pretty pastel pink with white trim for the woodwork, waxed the hardwood floor, and bought bedding and perfect lacy white curtains. I was so excited... and NERVOUS!!!

The furniture arrived just in time to get the room set up completely before I brought her home. I was to pick her up from a birthday party at a church. As I drove to the church to meet this prospect for a daughter, my heart nearly pounded right out of my chest!

Now, there were some ground rules. I was not under ANY circumstances to mention adoption to her or that I wanted a little girl at all. As far as she knew, I was a respite worker, a person who gives foster families a weekend "respite" from their foster child so that their biological family can reconnect. I would stick to the plan, but boy would it ever be difficult!! Also, my family thought I had lost my mind! They were concerned for me, because you know... you never know what you're gonna get! I love you all, Mom, Dad, Robert, Tessa... and I truly did appreciate your concern! I know now that not a one of you would trade Sara for the world. She is most definitely one of US. Ok... there are the tears again.

So I arrived at the church, took a few deep breaths, prayed a very heartfelt plea to God to please let this child be THE ONE, and went in. I walked into a fellowship hall full of giggly 9 and 10 year old girls who were running, dancing, singing, playing basketball, and eating. There were some adults there who I knew, thank goodness. The mother of the child who the party was for asked me if I was ready, and of course I said YES! She brought this very bouncy wild-looking little thing over to me, and introduced me as the "respite worker" to Marlena (that was her name before adoption). SHE WAS BEAUTIFUL!! And VERY active!! She immediately handed me a brush and some hairbows and asked if I'd fix her hair for her. Are you kidding????? I couldn't wait to fix her hair!! So I did, and she said, "Thank you! I'm going to go play now!" And that was it. I didn't know how to feel or what to think. Was she just being polite? Did she truly trust a stranger to do such a personal thing for her? Did someone suggest to her that she handle the introduction this way? The rest of the party went by in a blur.... I remember very little. Soon, it was time to go home.

Marlena and I got into my car and headed to the house. She asked a gazillion questions. Do you like kids? Do you like boys or girls best? Are you a NEW respite worker? What's your favorite movie? Who's your favorite singer? Am I talking too much? People tell me I talk too much. I like Titanic and Celine Dion and Shania Twain. Do you know any of their songs? What do you mean, you've never seen Titanic??? Can we watch it tonight? You'll love it! I know the song for Titanic! Want me to sing it for you? Ok.... and she did... loudly... and badly! But I loved every minute of it!!

As we were driving home, it occurred to me that in the overwhelming rush of getting THE ROOM ready and making sure my house was nice and clean; that I had forgotten about FOOD. So, I told her we would stop at the grocery store to buy things that she liked to eat since I had no idea. Whew! What a save! I had made her feel special instead of making her feel like I had forgotten! Very quickly I realized that she would have me buy EVERYTHING in the store if I could!! She wasn't picky at all! So, I let her make some choices and I made the rest. We rented Titanic, which we never got to watch (thank goodness... really not appropriate for a nine year old)!

We got home, I gave her the tour of the house, and introduced her to my two dogs. The dogs loved her, of course! Soon we were on the couch in the den, eating a snack and attempting to watch Titanic. There was so much to talk about, though! At least, it appeared there was. She talked non-stop! I have no idea what we talked about that night, but it didn't matter. She seemed perfectly comfortable with me. THAT was all that mattered to me! She went to bed, and I read her a story. We said a prayer together, and then I was alone with my thoughts. I was so excited that there was no way I could sleep! This was better than any magical Christmas morning I'd ever had in my life! Better than any accomplishment or adventure or ANYTHING so far in my life! I couldn't wait until morning.

I got up early. Very early. It was all I could do to wait until an appropriate time to start cooking our big country style breakfast that we had planned out the night before. I was making it all. The works! As I was standing at the stove, humming softly along with the radio, these teeny little arms came sneaking around my waist from behind and hugged me hard. I turned around, and there was that beautiful brown eyed little face, with hair all tousled, looking up at me with a HUGE smile. She said good morning, and then she said something else. She said, "I want you to be my mommy." She said it very matter of factly, not playfully, not whiney, just as if she would have said that the sun was up or the house felt warm. My voice caught in my throat, and I had to blink back tears. I WANTED to be her mommy! But I was not allowed to say so!! So, I stooped down to her level, and said that I really was enjoying her company and that she could come visit with me any time her foster family needed a respite weekend. Those words felt so cruel coming out of my mouth, but I didn't know what else to say! Then, she said,

"I don't want you for a respite mommy. I want you to be my mommy FOREVER." Oh. My. Goodness. How do you keep your heart from exploding under these conditions????? Excuse me while I wipe away more tears.

So, on Friday, February 26th, 1999 I met my future daughter. I'll never forget it. I don't think she will either. The rest of the weekend was wonderful. The weather was cooperative, and we were able to go play in the park, and play outside with the dogs. It went by SO quickly though! On Sunday, when Nicole (the case worker) came to pick her up, she hid in my office under my desk. She did NOT want to leave. I loved it! But at the same time, I felt bad because she was misbehaving because of me. Nicole finally coaxed her out by promising to bring her back very soon. We hugged hard and long, and my little girl left. I cried, I laughed, I prayed and thanked God, I called my family to tell them that I had found THE ONE, and then I cried some more. I was completely swept off my feet by this amazing little ball of energy!

A few hours later, Nicole called me to tell me about the trip home with Marlena. She asked me how I felt about her. How did I feel??? I was elated! I couldn't wait to buy her toys! And clothes! And take her to school! And introduce her to all my family!! There was no way to describe how I felt about her! So after I stopped blathering on, Nicole said this: "Would you like to know what she thinks about you?" Oh, my heart dropped down to my toes! "She told me that you are the person that God had picked to be her mommy forever." Of course, then I was crying. Those of you who know me well know what a crier I am. I was bawling! So was Nicole.

Sara moved in with me the following Friday, March 4th, 1999. Our adoption was final on December 20th, 1999. We fondly recall that we were each others' Christmas gifts that year. She's twenty now, and I can't believe that ten years have gone by so quickly! She's beautiful, smart, an amazing singer, and has a gift for working with children. I am SO proud to be her mommy forever!

Sara, you are still the BEST Christmas present I ever got! In honor of being your mommy for ten years, since we can't go out anywhere today, I'm publishing this story to facebook to tell the world how amazing you are! I love you babygirl!

Active vs. Passive Writing: Energize Your Prose!

 by Suzanne Lieurance Ever feel like your stories and articles are a bit slow-paced and wordy?   If so, that’s probably because you’re using...