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Where is the Main Idea?
In order to answer Main Idea Questions correctly on your TOEFL, in the listening section, you’ll have to know where to find the main idea. This is the most common problem that students have with this type of question. They look for the main idea in the wrong places. So, really, there two parts. The beginning, and the rest.
By the rest, I mean everything that’s not the beginning. The first 30 seconds or so are key. The main idea might be in the first ten seconds of the listening or maybe it will be in 20 seconds or 30 seconds. But very often, you have the most important topic, the main topic, in that beginning of the recording.
This is especially true for conversations. That’s because in conversations, the topic might really change. Sometimes, conversations move from one idea to another. The purpose of the conversation might change. Say, for example, a student goes to the library and in the beginning, he’s looking for a book.
And then the librarian tells him that they don’t have that book in the library. So now, the student isn’t looking for the book in the library anymore. He might need to find it in another library. Or maybe he talks to the to the librarian about finding the book on the internet, or something else. The purpose of the student changed in time with the conversation.
So when you have a question that asks about why the conversation happened, you have to be careful not to answer about going to other libraries or the internet. Instead, the very beginning, when the student went to the librarian, is the most important part. Don’t ignore the rest of the lectures especially, and the conversations too.
The beginning is important, but it’s not the only part. All the details will connect to the one main idea. So, in that example about the library, the man is still looking for the same book, even though maybe the details have really changed, and his specific goal, finding the book at the library, changed to something else, finding the book in another place.
It all connects back to the same idea that he needs to find this book. All the details connect to the main idea. If the answer is too specific, then other details won’t connect. And that means it’s not the main idea. And therefore, not the correct answer. Okay. Now let’s see a real sample question here.
In order to do this, we need a recording. We’re going to use the recording from the previous lesson called listening sample three, classroom discussion. And there is a link back to that video under this. So go back to that lesson, and listen once more. Then come back here and we will see a main idea question about that classroom discussion.
Okay. And here’s our main idea question. What is the lecture mainly about? This is a very simple, very typical wording of the main idea question. One your test, they may look a little different or they may be exactly these same words.
Let’s see some answer choices. The difference between two types of poetry that the class will write. Okay. Well, in that lecture, we did hear about two types of poetry, Villanelles and Sestinas. So that sounds good.
And the class will write a Sestina, so that sounds good. And these two types of poetry are different, so that sounds good. But this part, the difference, is the lecture mainly about the difference? No, it’s not. We talked about that, or we heard of that in the lecture only very quickly. In fact, there’s very little information about the difference.
So that’s a very specific detail that can’t be the main idea. How about this? A type of structured poems origin and history. Okay. A type of structured poem, that’s probably the Sestina. And origin and history, where it comes from.
The person who created it, or the country where it came from, and what has happened in the years since it’s creation. Well, this looks pretty good because did hear about the man who created it, we heard a little bit about the history. But, again, is this the main idea? No, it’s not.
It is in the lecture, but it’s only very briefly in the lecture. We need to see more than that. A writing assignment that the professor feels the students will learn from. Okay. We have a writing assignment, that is creating the Sestinas that the professor feels the students will learn from.
Well, this sounds very good from the beginning of the lecture, because the professor is assigning a specific type of poem to the students. He wants the students to create these poems. And this part sounds like the end. He thinks that students will learn about repetition and using repetition in their writing.
So that sounds pretty good, too. In fact, this is the correct answer. We have something from the beginning, which is important, of course. And it ties to the end. That works very well. But let’s look at our last answer, which it will be a wrong answer and see why it is wrong.
Six lines of an ancient stanza, which the class will later discuss. Okay. This one is confusing, possibly because ancient stanza and this number six. Of course, we heard the number six many times in the lecture, but that doesn’t mean this is correct. That is a trap.
It is a trick. It is supposed to confuse you. And an ancient stanza, what does that mean? Ancient is very old, and a stanza is a part of a poem. But maybe you’re not clear about this, and you heard this word many times, it’s another trick, and the class will later discuss.
Well, we did hear that the class will talk about the author of the poem, the author of the first Sestina. But again, this is not the main topic, and the meaning of this one is actually not true at all. They’re not talking about six lines from some specific poem. They’re talking about the form of the poem in general.
So our correct answer is again C.
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