Supporting Details

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Supporting Details

In our last video we talked about the most important reading skill:

Finding the main ideas.

Today we are going to talk about the second most important reading skill:

Finding supporting details.

In other words, finding the information a writer uses to support their main idea.

Let’s look at a text message now and see how the writer supports their main idea.

The new camera cost more than I expected. Then I decided to buy a new case as well.
I have to ask my mother for some more money.

In the text, the sender’s main idea is he has to ask his mother for some more money.
He then supports his main idea with two reasons. The first one is the camera cost more than expect, and the second one is he decided to buy a camera case as well.
I am not sure his reasons are sound enough to ask his mother for money. But I think you get the point. His two reasons give us a clearer picture of his main idea.

Let’s read a paragraph this time about why students have a hard time participating in morning classes.
As we read, see if you can find the three major details that support the main idea.

Students often find it hard to participate in their morning classes. First of all, they often go to bed late the night before. Because they don’t get enough sleep, they tend to take longer waking up in the morning. Secondly, they often either skip breakfast, or just grab something to eat. Without enough energy, they have a hard time concentrating in class. Finally, they often fail to do their homework. Therefore, they are not prepared to participate with other students.

Before we look for the supporting details, we need to know what the main idea is.
Remember, the main idea is in the topic sentence. So looking at our paragraph, which sentence would you say is the topic sentence?

If you said the first sentence, you are correct. Students often find it hard to participate in their morning classes.

Writers generally use signal words to introduce supporting details, so let’s look for our signal words in the above paragraph. The writer uses First of all, Secondly, and Finally.

The writer could have used other signal words as well; he could have used ONEANOTHER, and ANOTHER. Or he could have used FIRSTNEXT, and LAST.
The important thing is, he used words that signaled the supporting details.

Now the other sentences in the paragraph are minor details, they elaborate, or give us more information about the major details.  If we look at this map we can better see the relationships between the parts in the paragraph. Notice how the major details are connected to the main idea and the minor details are connected to the major details.

Remember, the most important reading skill that you can master is finding the main idea, and the next one is finding the supporting details.

*See List of Signal Words (Transitions)

Richard Carrigan

Richard Carrigan has been an educator for over 30 years and a filmmaker for the past thirteen years. He has experience teaching business English and conversational English in Asia and teaching academic English at the university level in the United States.