Using Book Reports To Teach Main Idea

Juliet D'cruz

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Using Book Reports To Teach Main Idea

If a student does not have a book they are interested in, chances are they will not love book reports. However, book reports are an important part of language arts including: reading comprehension, understanding main ideas, analyzing literacy concepts, improving reading speed, improving spelling, understanding character development and many more. Here are some ways to use book reports to help students understand important literacy concepts such as main idea, plot, and theme. 

Main Idea

Main idea is just that, the main idea. However, identifying the main idea behind a large book or piece of writing can be hard for adults, not just children. Teaching main idea doesn’t have to be hard or complicated, but for many students and even adults the concept is tough. Instead of trying to have students learn the skill in a sterile void, give them a task that will ask them to practice the skill naturally!

Book reports of all kinds ask students to find the main idea because that is one of the main goals of a book report. Have you ever written or read a book report, or any report for that matter, that didn’t convey the main idea? If you have chances are it didn’t get a good grade, or if you were the one reading through it you most likely had the writer start over again or fix the report. 

Book reports ask readers to do the following skills that are integral to identifying main idea:

  • Identifying the most important idea or lesson behind the text (main idea)
  • Finding details that support the main idea
  • Restructuring the main idea into their own words
  • Keeping things short and to the point
  • Matching what the book told them to their own thoughts and ideas


Plot is simply the events in a story that happen in a cause & effect relationship. While the dictionary definition of plot seems straightforward it can be hard for students to identify the key pieces of a plot and to arrange them, or show the cause and effect relationship. Book reports can help make plot easier for students to identify with book reports. 

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Often book reports will ask students to identify the following parts of a story, using vocabulary specific to plot:

  • Exposition (Background; or what happened before the story began)
  • Inciting Incident (What is the event that started the story?)
  • Rising Action (What are the events that raise the stakes and get in the way of the main characters?)
  • Climax (The most exciting part of the book, where the final confrontation happens)
  • Falling Action (What are the events that happened as the story moves away from the climax)
  • Resolution (How does the story end?)

By practicing not only identifying, but summarizing each of these plot points students aren’t only practicing identifying plot but also reinforcing their skill of finding the main idea. 

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Theme can oftentimes be confusing for students. In fact, many can go for years or their whole life and get theme and main idea confused. While main idea is simply what the story or the writing is about, theme is central message. Oftentimes the theme contains a lesson or moral that the reader is supposed to learn. By using book reports as a teaching tool students can get practice separating main idea from theme. For many book reports this can be achieved by using the following writing prompts:

  1. What is the lesson or moral learned from the story?
  2. Can you apply this theme to other texts, stories, or your own life?
  3. Is the theme stated directly in the text? (This question is great because while main ideas can often be found in the text, theme cannot)
  4. Is the theme universal?

The Takeaway

While book reports can often seem boring, literature can often be seen as difficult and to some, reading a waste of time, each of those statements are false. A well prepared educator can make all the difference to their students when approaching these subjects. By giving students not only the space to practice but the structure to practice with purpose one can help guide their learning and acquisition of new skills and knowledge. 


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