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Teaching Theme in Literature

Some concepts are just easy for students to pick up on. Others are not.  Take, for instance, theme.  I teach theme every year, and every year I have students who keep confusing it with main idea.  This year, I decided to approach teaching theme differently and so far, it seems to be working!


First, I created an anchor chart for Theme.
I displayed it at the front of the room (without the Post-It Notes; those came later).  We talked about theme being the big message or lesson of the story.  I related it as, “After you have read a book, ask yourself what did you learn from that book that can help you be a better person?”  Themes in literature have the power to change our lives for the better.
We talked about the example categories on the poster: Friendship, Honesty, Courage, Perseverance, Acceptance, Kindness, Cooperation, and Compassion.  These themes all have the power to help us be better people inside.
As a class, we then read a story, Blancaflor, in which the main character must make a decision to keep his word or not be trustworthy.  In the end, he follows through on his promise and is rewarded for doing so.
Groups then discussed what they felt the theme of the story was.
Here is the one thing I did differently this year that really is paying off, I believe:
Not only did they have to name the theme, but I also required them to give
textual support for their answer.  As the teams were talking and sharing their ideas, I heard some really great discussions; so much more in depth than in years past.  Why?  Students were looking in the book and finding support for their arguments.  It was great!
After the team meetings, the spokesperson for each group stood and identified the theme and also gave text evidence to support their answer.
Using their answers (they all identified honesty as being the theme),
I modeled how to fill out a Post-It note for the anchor poster.
At the close of the lesson, I challenged students to fill out their own Post-It notes for the chart.  After taking and passing an AR Quiz on any novel, they are welcome to add to the chart.  Several notes have been added so far!
I love what my students have written.  I love even more that they are now supporting their answers with examples from the text!
We are not totally there yet, so I am extending our in-depth look at theme for a few more weeks.  In my next post, I will share more examples of what we are doing for this unit.  Those examples will show how we are using several resources from my newly-finished Theme in Literature Resource Unit for my Teachers Pay Teachers store.  Here is a teaser:
This Out of This World Unit can be found at my TPT Store online!
Thanks for reading.  I wish you the best of success in your classroom during this next week!

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Shelly Rees

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  • Sharon Fabian May 31, 2015 at 9:02 pm

    Love these Post It note charts!

  • Charla Willis August 12, 2015 at 3:59 am

    Love this! Theme is always so hard for kids. Thanks!!

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    I'm Shelly Rees of Appletastic Learning. First and foremost, I'm a mom of 4 boys, wife of 25 years to Aric, and Wyoming girl at heart. I love being creative, making resources for teachers, baking cookies, Diet Coke, teaching, public speaking, and spreading kindness wherever I can. After teaching in the upper elementary grades for over 23 years, I retired early and focused on creating and helping teachers around the world with my teaching ideas and resources. I also serve as a mentor to hundreds of teacherpreneurs and help them get focused on growing their own successful businesses. With 100% honesty, I LOVE my life! Thanks for visiting! I hope you'll stay awhile and come back often. Read More

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