How to find the Theme of a Short Story

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SWBAT determine how theme develops over the course of a narrative, shaped by specific details, and how to analyze the central theme by using a teacher designed Identifying Theme activity.

Big Idea

What is the difference between Theme and Subject when analyzing a short story ?


10 minutes

Identifying the theme (RL.9-10.2) of a story is a higher order skill and requires students to do something that is often difficult, to make an inference. Consequently, many of my students have a difficult time identifying themes. I know this skill is frequently evaluated on our district and state reading tests making it important that my students identify themes with reasonable reliability. I want to properly teach them how to identify themes which is the first step towards meeting this learning objective.

I begin this lesson by asking students to "write what you know about finding the Theme of a story."  I want to see how many students need to know that theme is the life lesson of a story or the author’s message. 

I tell students that the author will not tell them what the theme or lesson is. They will have to think about what the characters did wrong or right and what they can learn from the character’s experience.  I explain that this skill is called inferring and must be practiced.

Building Knowledge

40 minutes

The Building Knowledge part of my lesson is usually 20 minutes long.  But for this lesson I extended it because I want my students to have important background knowledge before reading the short story "The Sniper."  

Teaching Theme

I write on the board:

Edwardo wanted to practice basketball so he could make the high school team. He didn't have a basketball and needed to buy one so he could practice but he didn’t have any money, so he decided to steal one. But when Edwardo got caught stealing the ball, his parents said he couldn't play basketball all summer.

I then ask students to write down what they think is the theme of this story.  

Next I use one of the best short video's I've seen on teaching theme entitled "How to Find Theme."  The topics covered include, What is it, How a subject differs from a theme, and How to find a Theme.  I stop at different points during the power point video to have them take notes. For example, "Theme: the central idea of a work of literature." and "A Theme is the idea the writer expresses on the subject of the story."

At the end of the video the author summarizes the points necessary to find the theme.  We review these points as students write them down in their journals.  I then ask students to use their notes to find the theme when they read the short story "The Sniper."



Student Learning Activity

15 minutes

Before we begin reading the short story "The Sniper,"  I want them to have practice in finding theme after reading short passages.

Flexible Grouping

I ask students to either work in their small groups of three, in pairs, or individually.  I always model how I want them to work together with another student.

Students are assigned to groups of two or three or work alone on the Theme worksheet.  They read the passage, discuss possible themes with group members and write the answer to the questions RL.9-10.2.  To answer the two questions being asked about theme they also need to be able to cite evidence in the short text that supports their answer RL.9-10.1. I circulate among the groups clearing up misunderstandings and keep students focused on the task.

Wrap Up

10 minutes

One Word Summary: Students are asked to write one word that summarizes Theme.  They include a Summary Word or a word that will remind them of the topic word Theme, and then include a short explanation for the summary word they chose to use.