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There’s No I in Theme-work!
Students will be able to find and articulate the theme of a fictional text as a general life lesson.
- Tell students that today we are going to look for the central lesson, or theme, in a fictional story.
- Go over the definition of theme with the class. Discuss how a theme is similar to the moral of the story. It is a central lesson or idea that is revealed through the events in a story. Note that a story may have more than one theme.
Explicit instruction/Teacher modeling(18 minutes)
- Explain that when finding a theme it is important that you’ve finished the entire text because it is a message that is reflected through the entire story, not just in a single moment.
- Show students the video read aloud Not Your Typical Dragon (or read the book aloud) so that all students can reference the common text.
- Tell students that one way to find the theme is to examine the story’s problem and solution. Ask students: What problem did Crispin face in the story? (He was a dragon that could not breathe fire.) Then, have students talk with an elbow partner to identify the solution to the problem (Crispin and his family realized that it was ok that he couldn’t breathe fire).
- Discuss as a class: What lesson did Crispin and his family learn as they resolved this problem? (Even though Crispin was different than his fire-breathing family, he had some special skills that were useful and worth celebrating). On the board, record one or more lessons that come up in the discussion.
- Select one of the brainstormed ideas from the board to focus on and circle it. Remind students that there are many lessons the characters learned, but we are going to just focus on one of them.
- Rewrite the lesson as a general statement (i.e., the things that make people different are also the things that make them special) and tell students, this is a theme of the story because it is a lesson that can apply to anyone.
- Point out that in your sentence, you used the word "people" instead of the character's name or the word "dragon." Explain that, even if the characters aren’t people, we should use the term people in the theme because the readers of the book are people.
Guided practice/Interactive modeling(20 minutes)
- Summarize a familiar story aloud, like “The Ant and the Grasshopper” (or read the story aloud).
- Have students turn to an elbow partner and discuss the problem and solution in the story. Call on students to share their answers.
- As a class, discuss the possible lessons that the grasshopper learned (i.e., Grasshopper should have worked hard in the summer like Ant, so that he was prepared for the winter). On the board, record several lessons that are brought up in discussion.
- Have students use the brainstormed lessons to come up with three theme sentences with a partner. Instruct pairs of students to write down the three theme sentences they come up with on a piece of scratch paper.
- Remind students that their sentences should be general enough to apply to anybody but not overly vague (i.e., instead of “family is important,” you might say “a person needs family to overcome difficult situations”).
- Then, have students decide which of their three themes is the best (not vague, applies to everyone). Circulate and offer guidance as needed during this part of the activity.
- Hand out a blank sheet of paper to each pair of students and instruct them to fold their paper into thirds (in portrait orientation).
- Have students rewrite their chosen theme sentence onto the top third of their paper, and pass it to a neighboring pair of students (every pair should now have a sheet of paper with a theme that someone else wrote).
- Tell students to read the theme that was passed to them and, on the paper under the theme, write an example from the story that supports the theme. For example, if the theme was, “People should work hard when they can to prepare for periods of difficulty,” an example might be, “Ant knew that she would need seeds in the winter, so she collected lots of seeds in the summer when they were easy to reach.”
- Then, have them pass the paper to a new set of students and repeat, so that there are two different examples listed under the theme.
Independent working time(10 minutes)
- Hand out “The Shepherd Boy and the Wolf” and a copy of the Find the Theme Flowchart to each student (note: Cut or black out the moral that is included with the story before making copies).
- Instruct students to write a theme for the story using the flowchart as a guide.
- Circulate and offer support as needed.
- Provide a partially completed flowchart for students during independent practice (i.e., fill out the problem, solution, and lesson sections so that students need only write the theme).
- Help students find the theme of longer stories by providing additional chances to practice with read alouds like Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman (see suggested media).
- Have students apply the skills learned to find the theme of a book of their choice.
- Challenge students to come up with two or more unique themes for the same story (Note: This challenge works best with a complex picture book or a novel).
- Play music and provide its lyrics. Then, have students find the theme of the song.
- On the board, write four possible themes for a familiar story like “Goldilocks and the Three Bears" (i.e., greediness leads to selfish behavior, people shouldn’t be greedy, Goldilocks was too greedy and took stuff that didn’t belong to her, people who are greedy may end up hurting others).
- Ask students which is the best example of a theme and take a vote. Then discuss what makes their choice the best, and why the other choices are not themes.
- Repeat with other familiar stories.
Review and closing(5 minutes)
- DISCUSS: Why is it important to understand the theme of a story? How does the theme reflect the author’s beliefs?