Determining the Topic

The first step for a student to understand what they are reading is to know the topic of what they are reading. The topic is simple what the author is writing about. This sounds ridiculous but for students, especially those who are reading in a second language, it is not always easy to determine what the topic of a reading passage is. Below is a list of common characteristics of a topic.

  • The “something” an author is writing about is the topic.
  • The topic is the who or what that the author writes about.
  • The topic is always a word, a phrase, or a name and it is never written as a sentence.

In addition to these characteristics above, there are four common clues that can be used to identify the topic. Below is the list and each will be explained with an example.

  1. Look for a heading or title.
  2. Look for words in special print, such as bold, italics, or color—or some combination, such as bold italics.
  3. Look for repeated words in a paragraph.
  4. Look for something mentioned at the beginning of the paragraph and then referred to throughout the paragraph by pronouns or by other words.

Clue 1: Find the Heading

The example below gives the topic of the passage in the title. This is an obvious example, however, students often skip the title to begin reading and never know what they are reading about. This is one reason that students must be taught to read the title first, if it is available, as it provides a framework for reading the details.

Somewhere University

Somewhere University is a school in Southeast Asia. It has about 300 students. The school offers several majors that focus mainly on humanitarian service. Somewhere University also has a diverse faculty with teachers from all over the world.

The title tells you what the topic is. This passage was about “Somewhere University.”

Clue 2: Look for Special Print 

Sometimes the topic is in the text and the writer uses special print or color to identify it. Again students run right to pass such obvious information. Below is the example. The topic is in bold and italics within the paragraph.

Somewhere University is a school in Southeast Asia. It has about 300 students. The school offers several majors that focus mainly on humanitarian service. Somewhere University also has a diverse faculty with teacher from all over the world.

In this example, the text is bold and in red. This is a common approach in textbooks.

Clue 3: Look for Repeated Words or Phrases

Many times the topic can be found by looking for words and phrases that are repeated continuously within a reading passage. The more often a word or phrase is used the more likely it is the topic. Below is an example. Count how many times the word “Somewhere University” is used.

Somewhere University is a school in Southeast Asia. It has about 300 students. Somewhere University offers several majors that focus mainly on humanitarian service. Somewhere University  also has a diverse faculty with teacher from all over the world.

The noun Somewhere University is in every sentence as the subject. As such, it is the topic of this paragraph.

Clue 4: Find a Word or Phrase Mentioned at the Beginning and Throughout the Passage by a Pronoun

After mentioning the topic by name, many authors will refer to it by other names or pronouns. This can be especially confusing for people new to the language as they may not have mastery of the various pronouns and synonyms appropriate for the topic. Below is an example.

Somewhere University is a school in Southeast Asia. It has about 300 students. The school offers several majors that focus mainly on humanitarian service. The Institute also has a diverse faculty with teacher from all over the world.

In the paragraph above, Somewhere University was referred to by the following words

  • It (2nd sentence)
  • The school (3rd sentence)
  • The Institute (4th sentence)

Remember this can be very confusing for many students when one word is referred to by several different other words.

Conclusion

These are some tools to help students to figure out what they are reading about. Are there other ways to do this? If so please respond in the comments section.

Advertisements

2 thoughts on “Determining the Topic

  1. Pingback: Finding the Main Idea | educationalresearchtechniques

  2. Pingback: Searching for Supporting Details | educationalresearchtechniques

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s