Approaches for Teaching Themes in Reading
It’s great when we teach students to read, but what happens when we need to teach them to understand what they read on a different level? Teaching our students to identify the themes in reading and language arts helps them to comprehend and respond to the ideas that the author communicates.
The ability to find these big ideas and learn from them is essential to success in any higher level English class, so teaching them in the younger grades provides a foundation for later comprehension.
- Graphic Organizers: Graphic Organizers help young readers understand how authors convey messages in reading. Using this effective tool to aid in uncovering both the simple and deeper messages of themes can be a reliable strategy for students.
- Prepare with the other parts of the story necessary for locating the theme: Identify the main idea, summarizing, point of view, and character traits. Scaffolding the instruction in this way helps them to do these steps on their own in later reading.
- Teach that completely different stories can have the same theme. Use this theme teaching tool to connect stories with the same themes: theme chart.
- Practice with short stories before moving on to longer texts: Every Living Thing.
- Plan time for small groups to read a short story and answer planned questions together to identify the events, characters, how the story changed from beginning to end, message, and big issue and how it was resolved.
- Teach students that the changes that the characters go through in the story are clues to finding the themes. After all, that’s what the themes are all about, learning and changing.
5 Easy Steps
- Write a summary of the plot in one sentence, including the conflict, rising action, the climax, the falling action, and the resolution.
- Identify the subject of the story, or what it is about.
- Identify the insight or truth that the protagonist learned through the story.
- Identify how the plot supported that change to the main character.
- Write one sentence on what the character learned and how it was learned.
When first learning to find the themes of stories, it can be difficult for students as themes seem very abstract. The temptation is just to tell them the themes when they don’t get them, but this is ultimately not helpful because this is a skill that is necessary for higher grades and college.
By helping them understand that themes are not stated in the reading, but inferred using the 5 easy steps above, they can begin to understand the concept of a theme. Another important concept for them to understand is that they don’t have to agree with the theme. And, finally, themes are big ideas that are meant to apply to real life. The author intends for people, not just the characters, to learn from the themes of a story.