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Fun Ideas for Teaching Theme

Fun Ideas for Teaching Theme

Do you need some fun ideas for teaching theme? Some concepts are just easy for students to pick up on. Others are not! Take theme, for instance. I teach theme every year, and every year I have students who keep confusing it with main idea. The two topics are similar and easily confused. I knew it was time that I stepped back and re-evaluated my teaching methods. As a result, I took a new approach to teaching theme in literature!

Fun Ideas for Teaching Theme

What is Theme?

Theme of Fable

Theme is the overall message or moral of a story. Some common themes in literature are love, friendship, and forgiveness. Themes are meant to apply to real life. They aren’t just meant for the characters in the story. Teaching theme can lead to many other important “teachable moments.” Through trial and error, I’ve finally found a super effective way to teach theme in my classroom.

5 Fun Ideas for Teaching Theme in Literature

Theme should be taught in conjunction with story elements such as setting, characters, main ideas, and details. It is important that students understand each of these individual elements both together and separately. 

Here are five simple ways to do this:

1. Anchor Charts

Anchor charts are a great visual for students to refer to throughout a lesson. They also allow your kiddos to be actively involved in a lesson by sharing their thoughts and ideas. They are a great way to teach theme in literature. So, as you can imagine I began our lesson by creating 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.

And yes, theme is more than a one-word answer. We always start simple and move to more complex!

I teach my students to ask themselves this question after reading: 

“What did you learn from this book/story that can help you be a better person?” 

That is the theme! Themes in literature have the power to change our lives for the better.

As a whole group, we talked about the example categories on the poster: Friendship, Honesty, Courage, Perseverance, Acceptance, Kindness, Cooperation, and Compassion. These are all common themes in the books and stories elementary students read. These themes all have the power to help us be better people inside.

2. Use Fables or Novels

Theme in Fables

Now that the class has a basic understanding of theme and other story elements, it’s time to apply theme using reading passages. Start with a text that has a very clear theme. For example, fables are a great place to start! This “Theme in Fables” worksheet is included in my complete Theme Unit.

If you’d like to start with a story I would recommend Blancaflor. This is one of the first stories I use when teaching theme. We read the story together and discuss it in detail. In Blancaflor, 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.

3. Small Group Activity

I incorporate small group work any chance I can. It is a great time for students to bounce ideas off each other and share ideas. It is also a great time for informal assessment. I love to walk around the room and hear the amazing discussions taking place. This is a great tool to help me know what areas we need to revisit and improve upon.

I divide the class into small groups and have them discuss what they felt the theme of the story was. They are able to use the anchor chart we created to give them a good starting point for their discussion. They then find two pieces of text evidence to support their choice.

Theme Activity

4. Interactive Notebook

Theme Interactive Notebook
Theme Notebook

After reevaluating my teaching methods, I made one simple change. It made a HUGE difference! We started finding textual support, otherwise known as text evidence! You wouldn’t believe the pay-off I’m seeing from it. When my students are in small groups, they have to name the theme and give text-based evidence to support 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 books and finding support for their answer. It was great! All of a sudden the concept of theme really started clicking.

5. Theme Mini Books

On a separate day, we read our story for the week from our district’s textbook. After we read it and discussed the overall theme, I gave each student a blank mini book printout (included in my Theme Unit).

They then wrote the theme for the story and gave three pieces of text evidence to support their choice. Then the students illustrated a scene. They LOVED this activity!

Theme Mini Book

Wrap It Up and Issue a Theme Challenge!

After the team meetings, the spokesperson for each group shared the theme with the class and 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 sticky note for the anchor poster.

At the close of the lesson, I challenged students to fill out their own sticky notes for the chart in the coming weeks. 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 reading what my students have written. I love even more that they are now supporting their answers with examples from the text!

Theme of Perseverance
Honesty Theme
Theme Activity

As you can see, teaching theme is a work in progress. We are not totally there yet, so I am extending our in-depth look at theme for a few more weeks. We will be working on deepening our understanding of theme with these the entire Theme Unit that I created.

I hope you find these fun ideas for teaching them to be helpful!

On another note, here are some other blog posts on teaching topics that I LOVE. Maybe you will, too!

Check Out These Resources for Teaching Theme!

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Fun Ideas for Teaching Theme
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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