One Story, Many Themes

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TSWBAT recognize numerous themes unfolding on the Island of the Blue Dolphins as the story develops.

Big Idea

Friendship...violence...isolation...survival...and interaction with nature- this novel's got it all!

Warm Up

5 minutes

Yesterday, we concentrated on symbolism- representing one thing with another.  Today, our focus is on theme, which also creates a deeper level of meaning in a text.  It's the underlying meaning of the novel, and there are often multiple themes.  I ask the kids to open to the next page in their Literature Spiral and write Themes in the top margin.  Next, they skip a few lines and write the following thought question:

When is the last time I was alone and how did I feel about it?

Before writing responses, I tell the students to raise their hand if they believe they are never alone.  If anyone indicates as much, have them remember a time they woke up in the middle of the night and couldn't get back to sleep.

Discuss the typical responses of 'loneliness, fear, excitement.'  Then, steer the conversation toward "getting to know yourself better, enjoying the quiet, noticing things you're too busy for when others are around." 

The best thing about being alone is:

The worst thing about being alone is:

The students write responses in their spirals.  They've just touched on the theme of Isolation, which will become a reality for Karana in Chapter 8.

Student Example #1

Student Example #2


30 minutes

There are many themes in Island of the Blue Dolphins.  I write ISLAND THEMES on the board and draw arrows jutting away diagonally from the words.  The kids will come up with these themes and as they do, have them put each next to an arrow.  After we've come up with our last theme, I ask the kids which theme seems to be the most important.  As always, many views and no consensus, but that's not the point anyway. I want rich discussion and thoughtful argument.   

Once themes have been established, pass out the graphic organizer, "What's the Big Idea?" It's a good one to use to get these themes and examples on paper.

Theme Examples: Isolation, Friendship, Violence, Survival, Man vs Nature, Adaptation.  After themes have been determined, I take a class vote on which theme people think most identifies the book and write the number next to the word.

In the Warm Up the theme of Isolation was explored. Use it as the classroom example to show what's expected to complete the graphic organizerHere is a second example.

The kids write the theme (Isolation, etc.) inside the top bubble.  They must then show evidence of this theme after finding examples in their books.  Although working in groups is a great time saver, it's beneficial for the kids to explore the book for their own examples.  An alternative is to assign one theme as group to get them started, but tackle the others individually. Here is a student work sample.




15 minutes

With the "What's the Big Idea?" organizers filled with lots of data, it's time for the kids to put them to good use.  One of my favorite strategies is for kids to write basic information about a topic into a graphic organizer, and take it a step forward to create a quality essay or summary.  In this next activity, the kids do just this.  They select a theme on which to concentrate, and use the information from the previous activity to write an essay about it. 

I say:  "Using your "What's the Big Idea?" paper, write an essay summarizing your chosen theme with the supporting evidence you discovered in the book.  Please use regular essay form:

* Introductory paragraph- Give an overview about the theme of your essay.

* P1-P3 - Each paragraph is one of the sections from your graphic organizer written with additional details

* Concluding paragraph- Restate the message of your selected theme.


Evaulate writing with a tool such as the Six Traits of Writing model.