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5 Fun & Exciting Tips for Teaching Theme in Fourth Grade

ELA is so much fun to teach. Reading short stories, fables, and novels with your class is such an amazing experience. There are so many important skills and concepts that we teach our students as part of our reading instruction. Many of these require higher level thinking skills and getting students to apply a concept to a specific book or story. Your students have likely experienced a few years of learning about summarizing, main idea and inferencing. But identifying the theme might be something fairly new for them in fourth grade. Here are 5 tips for teaching theme in fourth grade that will help your students master this important concept.

These 5 tips for teaching theme in fourth grade will help you with this hard to grasp reading skill.

Teaching Theme in Literature

Help students learn and understand theme by creating a theme bulletin board or anchor chart with these ready to print theme posters

Theme is the moral, lesson, or message of the story. It is the BIG IDEA. Note that this should be differentiated from the main idea that students have already learned about. When first introducing the concept of theme it’s important to create an anchor chart or reference tool for students. These Theme in Literature Posters include everything you need. Print these posters and use them on a bulletin board, on chart paper, or copy in a smaller size so students can put them into their notebook. They are perfect for referencing the concept of theme all year long.

Here’s a great way to guide students to finding the theme: while reading have your students ask themselves what the author is trying to portray repeatedly throughout the story. Have them pay attention to the characters actions and words to help them find out.

Themes help the reader to connect the story to real life. Students are able to relate to characters and their struggles through the use of theme. Some common themes used throughout literature are:

Introducing students to the most common themes like kindness, acceptance, honesty and friendship will help them when learning the concept of theme
  • Friendship
  • Perseverance
  • Honesty
  • Courage
  • Kindness
  • Acceptance
  • Cooperation
  • Responsibility

See how this is really a BIG IDEA! It’s an over-arching broad topic as opposed to something that is story specific. Sometimes theme can be a hard skill for younger students to grasp because it is so abstract. With the use of different strategies, your students will have it down in to time at all. Here are 5 tips for teaching theme in fourth grade.

#1 Teaching Theme with Fables

Fables are a great way to introduce the concept of theme

Fables are a great place to start when teaching theme. Why? Well, fables usually have a very clear lesson or moral. This generally lines up with the theme and makes it easier for students to learn and understand what theme it. They make it easier for students to understand exactly what theme is and be able to identify them in a story because they are shorter in nature. And . . . since they aren’t as overwhelming as longer stories they make great examples for mini-lessons and guided practice.

These fable based theme reading passages will provide your students with focused theme practice. They are a great addition to those first lessons on theme when students are just learning this concept. They are also a great place to go when you have students struggling with the concept of theme too!

#2 Theme Graphic Organizer

This theme graphic organizer is a great tool to help guide students as think through identifying the theme - perfect for teaching theme in fourth grade

Graphic organizers are a great tool in the classroom. They are generally structured in a way that they help to guide student thinking about a specific skill or concept. Graphic organizers can be used when teaching theme too! In this Theme Graphic Organizer students don’t just stop with identifying the theme, but they are challenged to find evidence from the text to support it. This is a great way for them to check their theme choice and make sure it is supported by the story.

Graphic organizers can be completed together as a class or individually by each student. They can be a stand alone worksheet activity or added to a students reading journal or interactive notebook. This graphic organizer also makes a great theme focused reading response activity for independent reading time.

#3 Theme Mini-Book

Students can identify the theme, the text evidence and illustrate the theme with this mini book

Mini-books are a fun spin on graphic organizers. They provide the same theme content but in a different form. Sometimes it is as simple as changing up the format of an activity to really engage students attention. In this theme mini-book students will identify what the theme is, provide text based evidence, and even add an illustration.

The foldable book is super easy to make with no cutting or stapling required. It’s definitely something your students will be able to complete independently! It’s a great addition to a class novel study or with independent reading.

#4 Theme Foldables

This theme graphic organizer is a great addition to an interactive notebook. Students learn to identify text evidence to support the theme - perfect for teaching theme in fourth grade

Foldables are great to use in interactive notebooks or reading journals. They are another hands on activity that has a high engagement rate. We can use foldable to teach and practice theme. By incorporating foldables into a reading notebook, students have a great reference tool that they can use in the future too!

A great thing about teaching theme is that it’s not the activity that needs to change, but rather the story or book. Students can repeat the same foldable for different books or stories in order to gain a deeper understanding of theme and how it changes.

#5 Incorporating Theme into Writing

Take students thinking skills to a higher level as they apply what they learned about theme in their own writing with this guided writing activity.

Once you feel like your students have a pretty good grasp on what theme is, you can ramp up the thinking skills. Have students apply what they know about theme into their own writing! After digging into a variety of stories and hunting for text evidence, your students will love trying to weave a theme into their own story.

This Guided Theme Writing Activity will help them plan out their story and their theme. It’s no easy task to weave a theme into a story, but your students will love the challenge. After writing, share the stories and let class take a guess as to the theme the student author was trying to include.

Fun & Exciting Resources for Teaching Theme in Fourth Grade

All of these fun activities for theme can be found in my Teaching Theme in Literature packet. All five of these activities are included and ready to use. Not only can they be used with your initial lessons on theme, but the activities can be used again and again throughout the year as students practice identifying the theme.

Teaching theme can be difficult but these teaching resources and activities will help your students master the concept - perfect for teaching theme in fourth grade

If you like these ideas for teaching theme in fourth grade, then you will also love these reading bundles filled with similar activities for other reading concepts like author’s purpose and figurative language. Grab these reading bundles and be prepared for all your reading instruction needs this year!

These reading posters will help you teach a variety of reading skills and concepts and create reference tools for students to use all year long.
This reading bundle includes teaching resources and activities for teaching theme, author's purpose and figurative language

Save these ideas for Teaching Theme in Fourth Grade!

Pin this to your favorite ELA Pinterest board so you can come back the next time you need a fresh, new activity for teaching theme to your fourth grade students.

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Shelly Rees

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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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