EL Support Lesson

Common Theme Words

In this support lesson, your EL students will learn eight common theme words and will practice applying them to a short story. Use this lesson as a stand-alone lesson or as support to the lesson Determining the Theme of a Poem.
This lesson can be used as a pre-lesson for the Determining the Theme of a Poem lesson plan.
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This lesson can be used as a pre-lesson for the Determining the Theme of a Poem lesson plan.

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


Students will be able to describe a story with theme words using visual supports and sentence frames.

(4 minutes)
  • Tell students that today they will be discussing "theme" to prepare for future discussions about fictional stories.
  • Explain that a theme is the main message of a piece of writing or art.
  • Draw a circle in the center of a piece of chart paper and write the word "theme" inside the circle. Then, record a student-friendly definition of the word inside the circle. (Note: leave space around the circle to use later in the lesson.)
(15 minutes)
  • Tell students that a theme can be described with one word or with a complete sentence that describes the main message of the story. Clarify that for today's lesson, students will be thinking about theme as a single word rather than a complete sentence.
  • Explain that you will be introducing some theme words. Tell students that there are hundreds of words that can be used to describe theme, but that you will only be introducing eight common theme words so that they will have a foundation for future conversations about theme.
  • In the space around the center circle on the chart paper, tape one of the picture cards from the Visual Glossary of Theme Words (e.g., friendship). Write an example and the word's definition below the card (e.g., a caring relationship between people; Joey and Lina showed friendship when they played together at recess).
  • Ask students to turn and talk to a partner, sharing what they know about the theme word. Call on students to share their personal connections or background knowledge about the word.
  • Repeat with the seven remaining theme cards on the first page. (Note: you will not need the second page of theme cards during this portion of the lesson.)
  • Display the Word Study Concept Map worksheet and model how to complete it using one theme word from the chart.
  • Have students pair up and hand out a copy of the Word Study Concept Map to each pair. Assign each set of partners a word from the chart to focus on and tell them to work together to complete the graphic organizer for that word. Do not assign the theme word that you modeled. (Note: students will need access to dictionaries or theme word definitions for this activity.)
  • Remind students to come up with their own examples and unique drawings rather than copying the images on the chart.
  • Invite pairs of students to share their completed word webs with the class so that each theme word is shared.
(10 minutes)
  • Read a short story aloud, like the "The Lion and the Rat" (or show a digital read-aloud like the one linked in the materials).
  • Have students verbally summarize the story with a partner. Provide sentence frames to support students (e.g., "In the beginning, ____. Then, ____. Finally, ____.").
  • Direct students' attention to the theme words on the chart. Ask students to think about which theme word best describes the story. Have students talk with a partner and explain their thinking (e.g., "I think the story is about (theme) because ____.").
  • Call on students to share the theme word they chose and their reasoning. On the board, record the theme words that students suggest.
  • Explain that a story can be described by more than one theme word (e.g., friendship and kindness). However, it is important to explain why the theme fits the story.

There is no Sentence Level Focus section in this lesson.


  • Provide bilingual definitions for each theme word.
  • Pair beginning level students with partners who speak the same home language (L1) if possible.


  • Introduce additional theme words or allow students to brainstorm additional words to add to the chart during the word level focus.
  • Have advanced level students create gestures or tableaus to go with each theme word.
  • Have students create a "theme map" for a theme word of their choice (see related media).
  • Support students in sorting the theme words they learned into two groups: words associated with positive emotions and words associated with negative emotions. Use the sorting activity to guide a follow up conversation about how character emotions and theme are related.
(6 minutes)
  • Summarize a story that students are familiar with (e.g., "Goldilocks and the Three Bears").
  • Write three theme words on the board and number them one through three (e.g., "revenge," "loyalty," "greed").
  • Instruct students to choose the theme that best aligns with the story you summarized (e.g., "greed") and have them hold up their fingers to show which numbered answer they chose.
  • Scan student responses to gauge understanding.
  • Call on a student with the correct response to explain why they chose that theme word.
(5 minutes)
  • Remind students that there are many other theme words that were not discussed during the lesson. Add a few more word cards to the chart (e.g., "honesty," "courage," "love").
  • Ask students if they can think of any other theme words and call on volunteers to share their ideas.
  • Reiterate that theme can be expressed in different ways. Sometimes, a theme is just one word, like in today's lesson (e.g., "kindness"). However, sometimes theme can be expressed as a complete sentence that describes the main message. Provide an example of a complete sentence (e.g., "Showing kindness to others is often rewarded.").
  • Explain that in future lessons, students may see different styles of theme presented, but the theme words they learned today will help them understand the concept in either format.

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