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Unit Seven Main Ideas


learn to determine the main idea of a paragraph or longer selection. The main idea is the overall point the author is trying to make. The rest of the paragraph or longer selection consists of information or examples that help the reader understand the main point. What process do you go through to help you figure out the main idea of a selection? Take this pretest to find out how much you already know about identifying and understanding main ideas.

Unit Seven Main Ideas To read successfully, you must

TEST YOURSELF
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Before beginning the work in this chapter, think about what you already know about the main idea and how to find it. What is the main idea of each of the following passages? Write your answers on the blanks provided.

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1. Though life in Civil War military camps was tedious, it could be nearly as dangerous as time spent on the battlefield. Problems with supplying safe drinking water and disposing of waste constantly plagued military lead- faced with ers providing basic services for large numbers of people, often on short notice. Diseases such as dysentery and typhoid fever frequently swept through unsanitary camps. And in the overcrowded conditions that often prevailed, smallpox and other contagious diseases passed rapidly from person to person. At times, as many as a quarter of the uninjured people in camps were disabled by one or another of these ailments.

Main Idea: Life in Civil War military camps was almost as dangerous as time spent on the battlefield.
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2.Hollywood likes to appeal to teens because they are predictable. Put in a film rebellion against parents, an inappropriate boyfriend, some explosions and jump-outat-you scares, or bodily function humor (preferably with a postmodern ironic spin), and you're on your way to a blockbuster. Many big hits, such as Titanic to the Scream series, The Blair Witch Project and American Pie, fit the category. Huge successes such as Men in Black, Independence Day, and Armageddon were also primarily teen-supported.

Main Idea- Hollywood likes to appeal to teens because they are predictable.
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3.Everyone wants respect; parents want to be respected and want their children respected. But over and over again, it is common to hear language minority parents and their children say that they do not receive that respect in schools. The language minority child too often is seen as the student who is "different," a foreigner, the immigrant, the non-English speaker, the disadvantaged, someone who does not belong or who is "less" than others, and the school's mission becomes one of changing

Main Idea- Language minority parents and their children do not always receive respect in schools. ? 4.People who are good at using and understanding language, and skilled at thinking, solving problems, and making decisions, are likely to be seen as intelligent. But intelligence is not limited to these abilities alone. Over the years, psychologists studying people in various cultures around the world have proposed that the concept of "intelligence" is a broad umbrella that can also include attributes such as efficiently storing and retrieving memories; effectively focusing— or dividing—attention; rapidly processing information; quickly learning new things; profiting from experience; adapting well to changing environments; having a good

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5. One way in which almost anyone can improve his or her memory is to employ mnemonics. Mnemonics are strategies for putting information into an organized context in order to remember it more easily. To remember the names of the Great Lakes, for example, you could use the acronym HOMES (for Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, and Superior). Verbal organization is the basis for many mnemonics. You can link items by weaving them into a story, a sentence, or a rhyme. To help customers remember where they have parked their cars, some large garages have replaced section designations such as "Al" or "G8" with the names of colors, months, or animals. Customers can then tie the location of their cars to information already in long-term memory—for example, "I parked in the month of my mother's birthday." Main Idea-;

Main Idea; intelligence includes many abilities and attributes.

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Main Idea-;one way which almost everyone can improve his or her memory is to employ mnemonics.

General and Specific
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Before you practice finding main ideas, it's helpful to learn to distinguish the difference between the terms general and specific. You must apply these concepts to figure out the relationships of sentences within a paragraph. Understanding these relationships is the first step in improving your compre-| hension of the author's meaning.

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The word general means "broad" and "not limited." When we say a word or idea is general, we mean that it includes or refers to many different things in a large category. For example, music is a general term that includes many different types of things, including classical, hip hop, and rock and roll. Transportation is another general word that refers to a large group of items, including trains, buses, cars, and boats.

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The word specific means "definite" or "particular." Specific things or ideas are limited or narrowed in scope, and they refer to one certain something within a larger group. In the previous paragraph, for instance, classical, hip hop, and rock and roll are all certain types of music, so we say they are more specific. Leopards, lions, and house cats are all specific types of cats. Dermatologists, pediatricians, and surgeons are three specific types of doctors who practice medicine.

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The terms general and specific are relative. In other words, they depend upon or are connected to the other things with which they are being compared. For example, you would say that dance is a general term and that ballroom dance is one specific kind of dance. However, ballroom dance becomes the more general term when you think of specific kinds of ballroom dances, such as the waltz, the tango, and the foxtrot. Words and concepts, therefore, can change from being general or specific depending on their relationships to other words and concepts. Look at this list:

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animal mammal dog Jack Russell terrier Eddie, the dog on the Prasier television show

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The words in this list are arranged from most general to most specific. In other words, each item in the list is more specific than the one above it. The last item, Eddie, names one particular dog, so it is the most specific of all.

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To read well, you will need to be able to recognize the most general idea within a passage. Let's practice that skill by looking at groups of related items in different ways. Can you select the most general word in the list? pencil pen writing tools marker

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Three of the words in the group are specific, and one of the words is the most general. If you chose writing tools as most general, you are correct. The other three items are specific kinds of writing tools. Now examine this list and decide how the items are related. Come up with a word that includes all three items in the list. oak elm weeping willow Did you say trees? The three items above are all specific types of trees.

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Finally, see if you can think of three specific examples of the word toys. Some possible answers include dolls, balls, building blocks, action figures.

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Now that you've reviewed how words can be general and specific, you'll be able to see how the sentences that express ideas are also general and specific in relation to each other. Paragraphs are composed of both general and specific sentences. A general sentence is one that states the broadest idea in the paragraph. This idea could be explained or interpreted in a variety of different ways. The specific sentences in a paragraph are those that offer explanation or details that help readers understand and accept the idea in the general sentence. Specific sentences are essential to helping readers correctly determine the meaning of the general statement.

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We saw earlier how the terms general and specific are relative when applied to words. Sentences within a paragraph, too, are relatively general and specific. For example, read the following three statements: People can use time management to control stress.

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One approach to time management is to write a list every morning of the tasks to be done that day. The items on the list are then grouped into three categories: critical activities that must be performed, important activities that should be performed, and optional or trivial activities that can be delegated or postponed.

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The first sentence states the most general idea; then, the second sentence clarifies a specific type of time management you can use—writing a list— to control stress. The third sentence is even more specific because it identifies the three categories in which the items on the list can be grouped: critical activities that must be performed, important activities that should be performed, and optional or trivial activities that can be delegated or postponed. So, in this group of sentences, each statement is more specific than the one before it.

Exercise 7.1 Number these sentences in order from most general to most specific.
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1. ___Maggie enjoys watching hockey the most because it is so fast-paced and exciting. ___She enjoys watching baseball, hockey, and football. ___ Maggie loves to watch sports on television. 321

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Galileo Galilei (1564-1642), Italian astronomer, mathematician, and physicist, was one of the greatest scientists of all time. His concepts of motion and the forces that produce motion opened up an entirely new approach to astronomy. In particular, his studies of Jupiter's moons and the planet Venus proved the heliocentric, or sun-centered, theory of the solar system.

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One of the most popular coffees at the Black Cow is the "Cow Whip," which is a large $4.00 cup of coffee with chocolate syrup and whipped cream all whipped together. Upscale coffee shops that serve special coffees and offer other merchandise have become very popular in the last few years. For example, in my small town, we have a very fancy coffee shop called the Black Cow, which serves different types of coffees and sells T-shirts, coffee mugs, and croissants.

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Some drugs can improve mental performance under some conditions. Some are shown to facilitate recalling old memories and forming new ones. For example, studies of these drugs have shown memory improvement in elderly people with memory problems due to poor blood circulation.

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For example, his recent column on flying with a small child resonated with many people who fly. His column is published in the Miami Herald and read by millions of people every week. Dave Barry is a popular humor writer with whom many people can identify.321

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Because paragraphs are combinations of sentences that all work together to develop a main idea, sorting out the general and specific relationships among related sentences is the first step toward understanding what you read. Look at the four sentences below and try to identify the one that is the most general.

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New York is the birthplace of Elizabeth Ann Seton, America's first saint. New York is home to Temple Emanu-El, registered in the Guinness Book of World Records when it was built as the largest synagogue1 in the world. New York has long been a city rich in spiritual history. New York is also home to St. John the Divine, a cathedral that boasts the largest rose window in the world and that is just a bit smaller than St. Peter's in Rome.

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Did you choose the third sentence as most general? The other three sentences offer specific facts— specific people and places—that help explain the idea that New York is a city "rich in spiritual history." Now read these three specific sentences:

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By the early 1940s, airplanes had made it possible to cross the country in one long day of travel, rather than in several days by train. In the 1960s, touring families and students could get to Europe on overnight charter flights, rather than having to spend five days on a ship. Also by the 1960s, businesses could receive timely shipments from distant suppliers and coordinate work among offices in different states or countries.

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How would you state the general idea these three sentences explain or support? All three are statements about how commercial air travel saved individuals or businesses time, so the sentence "Commercial air travel gave people more control over their time" would be an accurate statement of the general idea they develop.

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Finally, read this general sentence: Aside from their moral implications, out-of-wedlock births are responsi- for a host of social ble problems. What three specific sentences could you write to explain this sentence? Some possibilities include:

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The link between single parents and poverty is well documented. Impoverished children of unmarried parents are more likely to commit crime, drop out of school, and develop drug and alcohol problems. Children of unmarried parents are likely to repeat the cycle of having babies while unwed.

Exercise 7.2
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The following groups of sentences include one general sentence and three specific sentences. On the blank provided, label each sentence with either a G for general or an S for specific.

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1. __ in the past several years, broadcasting tycoon Ted Turner has been making a new identity for himself as a philanthropist. __ in 1997, before it was fashionable for billionaires to make such gifts, he pledged a billion dollars to the United Nations. ___ The Turner Foundation, which he controls, awarded $50 million in 2000 to environmental causes, and Turner himself drives a hybrid gas-and-electric Toyota Prius, which averages about 50 miles per gallon. ____ Also in 2000, Turner started a foundation, the Nuclear Threat Initiative, whose goal is to curb the proliferation of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons, and he has pledged $250 million over the

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1. G in the past several years, broadcasting tycoon Ted Turner has been making a new identity for himself as a philanthropist. S in 1997, before it was fashionable for billionaires to make such gifts, he pledged a billion dollars to the United Nations. S The Turner Foundation, which he controls, awarded $50 million in 2000 to environmental causes, and Turner himself drives a hybrid gas-and-electric Toyota Prius, which averages about 50 miles per gallon. S Also in 2000, Turner started a foundation, the Nuclear Threat Initiative, whose goal is to curb the proliferation of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons, and he has pledged $250 million over the next five years.

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2. ____Small-business services range from shoeshine parlors to car rental agencies, from marriage counseling to computer software, from accounting and management consulting to professional dog walking. ___ In Dallas, for example, Jani-King has prospered by selling commercial cleaning services to local companies. ___ Primarily because they require fewer resources, service businesses are the fastest-growing segment of small-business enterprise. __ In Virginia Beach, Virginia, Jackson Hewitt Tax Service has found a profitable niche in providing computerized tax preparation and electronic tax-filing services.

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2. S Small-business services range from shoeshine parlors to car rental agencies, from marriage counseling to computer software, from accounting and management consulting to professional dog walking. S In Dallas, for example, Jani-King has prospered by selling commercial cleaning services to local companies. G Primarily because they require fewer resources, service businesses are the fastest-growing segment of small-business enterprise. S In Virginia Beach, Virginia, Jackson Hewitt Tax Service has found a profitable niche in providing computerized tax preparation and electronic tax-filing services.

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3. __ in the 1890s, Henry Ford invented the gasoline-burning internalcombustion engine to power a vehicle. ___ In the late 1870s, there were many inventions that revolutionized America. ___ Thomas Edison invented the incandescent light bulb during this period. ___ Granville T. Woods, an African American engineer from Columbus, Ohio, patented thirty-five devices vital to electronics and communications.

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3. S in the 1890s, Henry Ford invented the gasoline-burning internalcombustion engine to power a vehicle. G In the late 1870s, there were many inventions that revolutionized America. S Thomas Edison invented the incandescent light bulb during this period. S Granville T. Woods, an African American engineer from Columbus, Ohio, patented thirty-five devices vital to electronics and communications.

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4. __ The General Education Diploma (GED) received long overdue changes in 2002. __ For example, students are now allowed to use calculators for the first half of a new, two-part math exam. ___ The material is more difficult, and 20 percent of all math questions are not multiple choice. ___ Grading principles changed, too: in the past, the GED was structured to ensure that 1 in 3 graduating high school seniors could not pass; it is now set so that 2 out of 5 could not pass.

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4. G The General Education Diploma (GED) received long overdue changes in 2002. S For example, students are now allowed to use calculators for the first half of a new, two-part math exam. S The material is more difficult, and 20 percent of all math questions are not multiple choice. S Grading principles changed, too: in the past, the GED was structured to ensure that 1 in 3 graduating high school seniors could not pass; it is now set so that 2 out of 5 could not pass.

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5. __ One type of word study activity is the word identification activity, which has students learn strategies for reading and sight word recognition. _ Other word study activities include word sorts and word study games. ___ In word study, students learn how words are structured and use this knowledge to improve as readers. ___ Word study helps students examine words.

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5. S One type of word study activity is the word identification activity, which has students learn strategies for reading and sight word recognition. S Other word study activities include word sorts and word study games. S In word study, students learn how words are structured and use this knowledge to improve as readers. G Word study helps students examine words.

Determining the Topic
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Now that you've reviewed the distinction between general and specific, let's look at the most general aspect of a paragraph: its topic. To understand what you read, you must be able to identify the topic, or subject, of a reading selection. The topic is the person, place, thing, event, or idea that the passage is about, and it is usually expressed in just a word or brief phrase. For example, read this paragraph:

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The tendency to help others begins early, although at first it is not spontaneous; children have to learn to be helpful. In most cultures, very young children usually help others only when they are asked to do so or are offered a reward. Still, Carolyn Zahn-Waxier and her associates found that almost half of the two-year-olds they observed acted helpfully toward a friend or a family member. Even before their second birthday, some children offer help to those who are hurt or crying by snuggling, patting, or offering food or even their own teddy bears. As they grow older, children use helping behavior to gain social approval, and their efforts at helping become more elaborate. The role of social influence in the development of helping is seen as children follow examples set by people around them. Their helping behaviors are shaped by the norms established by their families and the broader culture. In addition, children are usually praised and given other rewards for helpfulness, but scolded for selfishness. Eventually most children come to believe that being helpful is

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The topic of this paragraph is helping others. Every sentence in the paragraph refers to or mentions helping, helping behaviors, or helpfulness. To find the topic of a selection, look for the person, place, thing, event, or idea that is repeated again and again.

Exercise 7.5 Read each paragraph and write the correct topic on the blank provided.
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1. Smoking not only harms your health but the health of those around you. Exposure to environmental tobacco smoke (also called passive smoke or secondhand smoke) includes exhaled smoke as well as smoke from burn- cigarettes. ing Studies have shown that environmental tobacco smoke can cause lung cancer in healthy nonsmokers. It is also associated with sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), and low-birth weight infants. Smoking by mothers is linked to a higher risk of their babies developing asthma in childhood, especially if the mother smokes while pregnant. Babies and children raised in a household where there is smoking have more ear infections, colds, bronchitis, and other respiratory problems than do children from nonsmoking families. Environmental smoke can also cause eye irritation, headaches, nausea, and dizziness.

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2. Pollution is the contamination of water, air, or land through the actions of people in an industrialized society. For several decades, environmentalists have been warning us about the dangers of industrial pollution. Unfortunately, business and government leaders either ignored the problem or weren't concerned about it until pollution became a threat to life and health in America. Today Americans expect business and government leaders to take swift action to clean up our environment and to rid it of pollution. Topic: pollution

Exercise 7.6
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Following each paragraph are three topics. On each blank, write B if the topic is too broad, N if it's too narrow, and T if it's the correct topic of the paragraph.

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1. The practice of management can be traced back thousands of years. The Egyptians used the management functions of planning, organizing, and controlling when they constructed the great pyramids. Alexander the Great employed a staff organization to coordinate activities during his military campaigns. The Roman Empire developed a well-defined organizational structure that greatly facilitated communication and control. Management practices and concepts were discussed by Socrates in 400 B.C.; Plato described job specialization in 350 B.C.; and Alfarabi listed several leadership traits in a.d. 900.

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Alexander the Great's management style Business Ancient management practices

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Alexander the Great's management style N Business B Ancient management practices T

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2. Crying is a common way in which infants express emotion. Newborn babies cry for a variety of reasons, but primarily because they are hungry, cold, wet, in pain, or disturbed out of their sleep. The nature of the baby's distress is often reflected in the type of cry she emits. In an extensive study of eighteen infants observed in their homes, Peter Wolff identified three patterns of crying. The first is the basic (or hungry) cry, a rhythmical sequence consisting of a vocalization, a pause, an intake of air, and another pause. The second is the angry cry, in which extra air is forced through the vocal cords during the vocalization segment of the basic cry. Finally, in the pain cry, the infant produces a long vocalization followed by an even longer silence as he holds his breath and then gasps.

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Ways infants express emotion
The basic cry Types of babies' cries

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Ways infants express emotion B The basic cry N Types of babies' cries T

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3. Parents used to rely on schools to provide the daily dose of fitness, but because of budget cuts and an increased emphasis on academics, only 56 percent of American students are enrolled in phys ed classes, according to the National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE). And scores of elementary schools are now considering eliminating recess, often because there's a shortage of time to get through many newly mandated academic subjects. At the same time, the number of overweight children has risen sharply in the past few years, with almost 13 percent of those between 6 and 11 now classified as obese, according to a recent study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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Children and fitness Recess Elementary school children

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Children and fitness T Recess N Elementary school children

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4. There is nothing more important than attending class to help you learn chemistry. Regular attendance allows you to have all of the lecture notes you'll need to organize your studies, and the experiments you perform in the laboratory give you hands-on experience in chemistry. Instructors are experts in teaching their subjects. They teach to a variety of learning styles, and you will benefit greatly from the classroom and laboratory experience and the personal interaction with the instructors and teaching assistants. If you need extra help, see your instructor after class and set up an appointment. Some instructors set aside time for weekly review sessions, and you will learn about these in class.

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Chemistry The importance of regular attendance Chemistry instructors' expertise

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Chemistry _B The importance of regular attendance T Chemistry instructors' expertise N

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5. Fatigue is an early sign of mild dehydration, according to experts. Staying on top of your liquid intake will keep you fresh. Though you can get a third to a half of your daily water needs from food, you still require eight-plus cups of fluid to feel right. Make sure at least five of them are water, say experts, and add a cup every time you down diuretics— beverages that drain body fluids— such as coffee or liquor.

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Avoiding dehydration Fatigue Drinking water

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Avoiding dehydration Fatigue B Drinking water N

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Determining the Main Idea
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Once you've found the topic of a paragraph, you can determine its main idea, the general point the writer expressed about the topic. The main idea is what the writer wants to prove or explain. It's the point he or she wants you to know or believe when you finish reading the paragraph. Therefore, being able to discern main ideas is a fundamental skill for successful reading. To find the main idea, ask yourself what the writer is saying about the topic. For example, read this paragraph:

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Olympians of yesteryear shared the same goal, but they would hardly recognize today's training techniques. To achieve the Olympian ideal of "faster, higher, stronger," coaches now realize, athletes don't have to train more but they do have to train smarter. That's why, these days, cross-country (Nordic) skiers kneel on skateboards and tug on pulleys to haul themselves up a ramp. Bobsledders practice sprinting in a near-shuffling style that would make world champion sprinter Maurice Greene wince. Pixieish figure skaters hurl 10-pound medicine balls—all because science has parsed1 nearly every move of every Olympic event and figured out what athletes must do to bring back the gold. That Nordic skier, for instance, is training to strengthen her upper body, which scientists find is the single greatest determinant of cross-country speed. The bobsled starter's odd sprint stance reflects the realization that he can't impart any forward oomph to the sled if his feet are off the ice, so unlike track sprinters, whose ideal form has them in the air much of the time,

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The topic of this paragraph is training for the Olympic Games. It's the thing that's mentioned in every sentence. But what is the author's point about the topic? In the second sentence, he states that Olympic athletes have to train "smarter." Then, the rest of the paragraph gives examples of different types of this smarter training.

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As you read the next paragraph, try to identify the topic and main idea. Ben Franklin was a natural at selling himself and his various ventures through advertising as well as through publicity and other forms of public relations. His ad for the famous Franklin stove—a vast improvement over the basic fireplace—is a masterful attempt at persuasion. One historian notes that "advertising and public relations, especially self-advertising and publicity, were as natural to Franklin as his restless intelligence and curiosity. Franklin, in all his roles and on behalf of all his varied activities, was always the untiring promoter." In fact, he was so successful a lobbyist and propagandist1 that in the 1760s he managed to persuade the British not to tax advertisements in

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Did you say the topic is Ben Franklin? If so, that is correct. Every sentence of this paragraph mentions Ben Franklin or includes a pronoun (he or his) that refers to him. Now, what does the writer of this paragraph want you to know or to believe about this topic? The first sentence says Ben Franklin was naturally adept at selling both himself and his inventions. Then, the remainder of the paragraph provides examples and an expert opinion to explain why the reader should accept that idea as true.

Exercise7.7 On the blank following each paragraph, write the main idea.
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1.They also require municipalities to treat sewage biologically. The goal of these laws is to make all bodies of water safe for swimming and fishing. The new Clean Water Act accomplishes this by tightening limits on toxic pollutants and by mandating pollution prevention planning, along with a phase out of certain toxic discharges. The revised law also provides the EPA with new authority for watershed planning and improves control programs for discharges from municipal sources, includ- a program to control rawing sewage overflows from combined storm and sanitary sewers. The law also calls for the development of a list of bioaccumulative'-toxic pollutants. Discharges of these pollutants would be phased out over a five-year period, unless no safe substitutes exist. Main Idea

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Main Idea- America's two major water pollution control laws are the Federal Water Pollution Control and the Clean Water Act.

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2. Homelessness predates the Republic, to judge from the colonists' fretful efforts to control the "rogues, vagabonds, common beggars and other lewd and disorderly persons" in their midst. But, Kenneth L. Kusmer argues in his book Down and Out, On the Road, it was the Civil War that gave vagrancy2 its first big boost. Although the war was expected to inculcate3 "the stern, unyielding discipline of the camp," its immediate effect was to accustom a generation of men to riding in trains, camping out and foraging for food. The word tramp originally described a military foraging expedition; a bum was a soldier who foraged a little too enthusiastically. And of course, the war left many men too damaged—physically and psychologically—for normal, settled forms of work.f

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Main Idea- The civil war increased homelessness and vagrancy in America.

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3. Ask anyone: Americans are getting fatter and fatter. Advertising campaigns say they are. So do federal officials and the scientists they rely on. But Dr. Jeffrey Friedman, an obesity researcher at Rockefeller University, argues that contrary to popular opinion, national data do not show Americans growing uniformly fatter. ... Dr. Friedman points to careful statistical analyses of the changes in Americans' body weight from 1991 to today by Dr. Katherine Flegal of the National Center for Health Statistics. At the lower end of the weight distribution, nothing has changed, not even by a few pounds. As you move up the scale, a few additional pounds start to show up, but even at midrange, people today are just 6 or 7 pounds heavier than they were in 1991. Only with the massively obese, the very top of the distribution, is there a substantial increase in weight, about 25 to 30 pounds, Dr. Flegal reported. As a result, the curve of body weight has been pulled slightly to the right, with more people shifting up a few pounds to cross the line

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Main Idea: National data does not support the belief that Americans are getting fatter.

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4. Friends matter a lot during adolescence. Unlike most adults, who often try to "improve" many of a teenager's behaviors and skills, friends offer easier and more immediate acceptance and thus ease the uncertainty and insecurity of the adolescent years. They also offer reassurance, understanding, advice, and emotional and social support in stressful situations. The opportunity to share inner feelings of disappointment as well as happiness with close friends enables the adolescent to better deal with her emotional ups and downs. Furthermore, a capacity to form close, intimate friendships during adolescence is related to overall social and emotional adjustment and competence.t Main Idea

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Main Idea- Friends matter a lot during adolescence.

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5. One of the great challenges of the tropical environment in parts of Asia was the uneven distribution of rainfall during the year. Farmers met the challenge by conserving some of the monsoon rainfall for use during the drier parts of the year. Farming communities in Southeast Asia constructed terraced hillsides with special water-control systems for growing rice. Water-storage dams and irrigation canals gradually became common in both north and south India. Main Idea:

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Main Idea: one of the great challenges of the tropical environment in parts of Asia was the uneven distribution of rainfall during the year.


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