In this short video tutorial by Tuts+ you can get a quick overview of how the basic sliders work in Adobe Camera Raw. It has a great demonstration using a white to black grayscale image which shows what each slider does, and which parts of your image each are affecting. There is also a good indicator of why you want to be shooting RAW format instead of JPG, showing the same corrections done on both formats and the difference the the larger RAW file makes.
Enjoy the video:
For more Photoshop tips check out our post-processing section. The Basic sliders in Lightroom do pretty much the same thing, but they have slightly different names. Give it a try yourself and see if this helps make sense of the basic panel.