Lesson plan

Determining the Theme of a Poem

Give your class a deeper understanding of theme with this art and poetry-focused lesson plan about theme. By the end of the lesson, students will understand what theme is and how to determine theme in a piece of writing, such as a poem.
Need extra help for EL students? Try the Common Theme Words pre-lesson.
EL Adjustments
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Need extra help for EL students? Try the Common Theme Words pre-lesson.

Students will be able to analyze the details in the poem to determine the overall theme. Students will be able to summarize a poem.

The adjustment to the whole group lesson is a modification to differentiate for children who are English learners.
EL adjustments
(7 minutes)
  • Activate prior knowledge by having students discuss theme.
    • Ask: What is a theme? What are some examples of theme? How can you determine the theme of a text or poem?
    • Have the students first discuss with a partner, and then share their ideas as a whole group.
  • Read Hug O' War by Shel Silverstein to the class. As a class, talk about the words in the poem that indicate the theme of love/friendship: "hugs," "giggles," "kisses," "grins," and "cuddles."
  • Emphasize that careful reading of a poem will help to determine theme.
(15 minutes)
  • Define the word theme as the subject of a piece of writing or art. Theme can be either one word or it can be a complete sentence that describes a lesson learned in the text. Explain that, for today's lesson, we will be looking for a single word to describe the theme of a poem.
  • Show students copies of The Scream, The Bathers, The Bath, and Romeo and Juliet.
  • Ask students to write down or orally answer what they feel is one word that tells what each piece is about. Ask them to consider how the speaker in the poem reflects upon the poem's main topic. Point out that the details in the text should support the theme and how the speaker communicates the theme.
  • Pass out copies of the poem "The Cold Within" to the class.
  • Read the poem aloud and define new vocabulary words: "happenstance," "birch," "tattered," "idle," "bespoke," "spite," "forlorn."
  • Direct students to look back at stanza one and model how to restate the stanza in your own words.
(25 minutes)
  • Divide the class into 6 equal groups and assign each group one stanza (2–7). Task each team's students with rewriting the stanza in their own words.
  • Circulate to all groups and help those that need assistance with the task. Once all groups have rewritten their stanzas, the poem will be read again using the students' rewrites.
  • Initiate a class discussion on what the theme of the poem might be. Possible answers include: prejudice, hatred, greed. Challenge students to point out evidence and details in the poem that support the theme. (It is important that all answers that can be supported by events in the poem be allowed.)
  • Ask: How does the author of the poem reveal that theme in the text?
(15 minutes)
  • Distribute a blank piece of paper and tell students they will be writing a summary of the poem. Review expectations of how to write a short and sweet summary.
  • Instruct students to include the theme of the poem as they write a summary of the poem.


  • Ask struggling students to choose their theme and highlight things in the poem that prove their idea. If students seem stuck, provide an example as scaffolding to get them started.


  • Have advanced students write their own poem with the same theme, as an extension activity.
  • Art pieces can be displayed on an interactive white board.
(5 minutes)
  • Put students into partnerships and have them share their poem summary, including the theme. Circulate and observe student conversations. Challenge students to ask clarifying questions of their partner to get them to further explain their thinking.
  • Pass out sticky notes to students and ask them to write a definition of "theme" and how to determine the theme of a poem.
  • Remind students to write their name on the note and turn it into the teacher as an exit card.
(3 minutes)
  • Ask: What are some things that can help you remember what "theme" means?
  • Ask the class to discuss the important ideas involved in summarizing a poem.
  • Jot notes to record student suggestions to serve as an anchor chart for future reference.

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