Once we sample the main dish on a plate, we also want to taste the side dishes to round out the entire meal. The main dish alone does not contain enough nutrients to get us through the day, just as the main idea of a text does not provide enough information on a subject. A main idea needs supporting details to become a fully developed informational text.

Let’s look at some supporting details and practice summarizing them. Read another passage from Ryan Littrell’s book. This excerpt is from the point of view of Ryan Littrell’s father, who describes memories of his grandfather, Ryan’s great-grandfather.

A photograph of the exterior of an old fashioned Ice Cream Parlor and Soda Fountain.

Source: Colchester (Essex UK) American
style Ice Cream parlour, Beechwood
Photography, Flickr


After my baseball games, he’d take me over to the ice cream place by the elementary school and buy me a chocolate and vanilla swirled ice cream cone. And he always had a grin. It wasn’t the self-conscious kind: it would come up from inside him whenever the occasion for a smile arose, which for him was most of the time.

That smile might surprise anyone who knew where he came from. As a child, he had to live with another family for a while because there wasn’t enough for him and his brothers and sisters, and he had to quit school after 8th grade to work in a coalmine. Even when he was a young man, his children would wake up on Christmas morning to find that their only gifts were ripe oranges, one for each of them, placed in their stockings. But he always knew he was lucky, because he had a love that never went away, and the assurance that he never left his beliefs, and some chances to pass down what matters.

Now, let’s separate the text to help us locate the supporting details. Click on each picture below to show text that contains supporting details that Littrell’s father provides from his memories of his grandfather. In each section, the supporting details, or key information, is highlighted.

icon for interactive exercise

To help us write the supporting details summary, let’s look over the highlighted text in the boxes above. You may notice that the most important detail is in the last box: The grandfather wanted to pass down his trait of loving his family. From the first two boxes, the details show that the grandfather shared simple pleasures with his grandson. From the next two boxes, you can summarize the fact that although the grandfather had a difficult childhood, he was generally a happy person. In the next-to-last box, you see that the grandfather treated his own children with the same kind of love he showed his grandson, Littrell’s father.

Now, let’s summarize these details without retelling them entirely. We will take some information from each set of details in the boxes above to put into one summarizing statement. Click on the choice below that you think is the best summary of the supporting details.

The speaker’s grandfather had a difficult childhood, having to quit school after 8th grade to go to work, but he remained cheerful and let his children and grandchildren know they were loved and valued by sharing simple pleasures with them such as giving his children gifts of oranges at Christmas and buying ice cream cones for his grandson after baseball.
Correct! This statement includes parts of all the details and weaves them together to create one summarizing sentence that makes clear what the grandfather went through and what he valued enough to pass down to his children and grandchildren.







The speaker’s grandfather would always pick up his grandson after baseball games, buy him ice cream cones, and continue to smile, even though he had to quit school after 8th grade, work in a coal mine, and later could only give his kids oranges at Christmas. He always felt lucky, though, and passed down what mattered to his children.
Try again. Although this summary includes some of the details in the same order as they appeared in the passage, it sounds like a long list that doesn’t emphasize the grandfather’s values. The jump in ideas from the grandfather buying his grandson ice cream to having to quit school when he was a child is confusing.


 As you can see, when you summarize supporting details, you need to make sure that the details clearly convey the main idea at the same time. Let’s put the summaries of the main idea and the supporting details all together.

We share DNA with our ancestors, and although we never knew them, their lives and experiences are important for helping us understand who we are. The speaker’s grandfather had a difficult childhood, having to quit school after 8th grade to go to work, but he remained cheerful and let his children and grandchildren know they were loved and valued by sharing simple pleasures with them such as giving his children gifts of oranges at Christmas and buying ice cream cones for his grandson after baseball.

A photographof a steak dinner on a plate. There are two small cuts of beef, several little smoked sausages, stuffing, Brussels sprouts, roasted potatoes, roasted carrots, and a chicken filet.

Source: Christmas Lunch (4213358626), Ewan Munro, Wikimedia




It’s important to remember that the details should go well with the main idea, just like these side dishes of vegetables go well with a main dish of steak.