Teach A Main Idea Through Math Story Problems

Finding the main idea in math word problems helps students to identify information crucial to solving the problems.

Learning to pick out a main idea is an important skill that usually is relegated to the realm of language arts. One way to give students extra practice in picking out a main idea is to use math story problems. When you teach students to extract a main idea from math story problems, you are helping to improve their language arts and math skills at the same time.


1. Define a main idea and teach students to find the main idea in reading passages first.

2. Present your students with a math story problem and read through it together.

3. Instruct students to underline the main question that the problem is presenting. This is the main idea of the word problem. For example, consider the following word problem: “Sandy has 4 marbles. Bill has 7 marbles. How many marbles do they have all together?” In this example, you would underline the sentence, “How many marbles do they have all together?”

4. Tell students to circle numbers within the word problem that are necessary for solving the problem. Relate these numbers to supporting details within a regular story. In this example, you would have the students circle the numbers “4” and “7” from the word problem. Explain that these numbers are the details that you need to solve the problem.

5. Solve the problem together once you have identified the main idea, along with the supporting information. In this word problem, you would write, “4 + 7 = 11.”

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6. Give your students additional word problems in which they can practice finding the main idea. Use group work and individual work. Offer feedback and help as necessary.