Two sets of equivalent stories and main ideas alternatives were developed in a series of preliminary studies with groups of undergraduates. One set was verbal; the other set was pictorial. A developmental study was completed with a group of second, fifth, and eighth graders, in which the children ranked the alternative main idea statements for each of the stories in one of the modalities. As expected, there was improvement with increasing age in children's ability to select the best ("adult consensus" and theoretically derived) main idea alternatives and a pattern of increased differentiation in judging the quality of the different alternatives. Most important, there was little difference in the children's responses to main idea alternatives, based on whether their task was in the verbal or pictorial format.
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The ability to identify the main idea of a story has long been thought to be an important index of how well children have comprehended it (e.g., Baumann, 1984; Baumann, 1986a,b; Bingham, Rembold, & Yussen, 1986; Brown & Smiley, 1977; Otto & Barrett, 1966; Thorndike, 1917; Yussen, 1982). Put most simply, if you can identify the main idea, you understand what the writer or speaker is trying to get across. Stories are important forms of prose, because they are used to instruct children in the early grades of school and because all of us encounter them in discourse so frequently (Anderson, Hiebert, Scott, & Wilkinson, 1985). The assessment of skill in identifying main ideas has long been part We thank the administrators, teachers, and children at several schools in the MononaG rove, WI district for their gracious help and cooperation in the study. The research reported in this article was funded by the WisconsinC enter for Education Research which was supported in part by a grant from the National Institute of Education (Grant No. NIE-G-81-0009). The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the position, policy, or endorsement of the National Institute of Education.