Prediction and Main Idea Reading Skills

Answering prediction and main idea questions on English tests isn’t easy but with some help from this article, it can be made easier.  Here are some tips on getting better at these essential reading skills.

Quite often, my students can nail the detail questions on a standard English reading comprehension quiz or test but they have trouble seeing the bigger picture.  I personally taught a class of bright EFL learners who were able to ace every question that dealt with vocabulary or details about the reading but they just gave up at main idea and prediction questions.  After realizing that this was because the students lacked “meta-reading” skills to see how reading is usually organized and how it flows, I decided to teach a lesson on this to help them out a bit.

I think a big part of helping students to gain a “meta-reading” abilitiy is to help them understand how writing is usually structured.  I usually spend some time going over the basics of what a topic sentence, concluding semtemce, and supporting sentences are and what they do.

As for an activity, I would recommend taking out everything but the topic sentence in each paragraph to show how the main idea of each paragraph is encapsulated by a writer.  Getting rid of everything else provides a distraction-free example of how a reading passage flows and the ideas that play a central part in an article.  Next, provide a reading on a similar topic and take out everything but the topic sentence and one extra sentence in each paragraph.  Have the students decide which of the sentences is a topic sentence and which is a supporting sentence.  Alternately, if you have some sharp learners, you could provide a reading with all of the topic sentences removed and have the students write their own topic sentences for each paragraph.  Have them compare their topic sentences with other students and decide who has written something that captures the main idea.   Compare it to the real topic sentence and learners can start to see different styles of stating topics in a paragraph.

Another possible activity that can get students thinking beyond the paragraph level is to look at how main ideas are arranged in an article.  Rearrange the paragraphs in a random order and see if the students can put it back together in the correct order.  To make the activity more challenging, throw in a paragraph that doesn’t quite belong and see if the students can pick up on it.

You could also try to teach “genre” reading, which might help students understand the different established patterns of academic writing.   Pre-reading activities should focus on what general structure the writer might choose for this kind of article.  For example, would it more likely be that the writer will 1) Introduce a problem, expand on it with details, and offer some possible solutions?  Or will the writer 2) Compare two things and  talk about similarities or differences?  If the article is about an environmental issue, your students will probably pick option 1.  Have them read and confirm whether this is the case in a post-reading activity.  You can use this great link from the Using English for Academic Purposes website for these kinds of activities.

I hope this helps your students with prediction and main idea exercises.  I just wanted to cover the basics in this post.  There are plenty of other activities you can do to help your students enhance this skill!  I’ll keep writing about them in future posts.