Theme can be a concept that is somewhat difficult for the students to grasp. To identify the theme the students must evaluate a text for the "bigger picture." Students at the 6th grade level are very concrete and often struggle with the "bigger picture." To help them do this, I will model first using media they are a little more familiar with and enjoy.
I will display the power point on Theme. In the journal section of their spirals, I will ask the students to reflect on the following question, "If you could pick one song to describe your life, what song would you pick?" This will get the students to start thinking of meanings and themes. I will then ask them to explain why they chose that song.
I will give the students time to think and provide them with an example. I would say the song I would pick would be "Free" by Zac Brown Band. I would pick this song because it talks about living every day as happy as you could and that is what I try to do. This song reflects how I try to live my life.
Once the students have had a chance to think, I will allow them time to share. The students love to share, especially when it comes to personal connections. I will help them explain how the song is meaningful to their own lives. I will also probably generate list of songs and try to pick out the one word theme by what the students say. This will demonstrate how they can identify a theme by their explanations. This will come in handy when we are looking at complex text.
To help the students understand the meaning of theme and how we identify it, I will pass out the graphic organizer Theme Notes and have them copy down the definition of theme in the pieces of the tree. I will display the tree graphic organizer onto the board, and write my definitions in the tree as I talk about each piece. I will ask the students to copy down what I write.
Often students make the mistake of getting hung up on the characters or events in the story, when identifying theme. I will use this small passage to model theme.
Karen hated her dance shoes. She wanted to dance with new shoes, but he didn’t have any money, so she decided to steal them. But when Karen got caught stealing the shoes, her parents said she had to drop out of dance for the entire summer.
I'll ask the students to identify the theme of this passage. You will be able to identify which students understand the concept of theme by how they respond. A student who responds that the theme is "you shouldn't steal" doesn't grasp the bigger picture. A student who identifies the theme as "you should work hard to get what you want" does have a better understanding for theme. I like to use this to demonstrate to the students to NOT use one event to support your theme. You need to look at the bigger picture.
As we discuss the definition of theme, I will ask the students to help me generate a list of possible themes found in stories and we can create a class list to use as a resource when working with text. I have found that if the students have a resource they will be able to focus on applying the skill rather than struggling with coming up with the word.
I like to introduce theme by suing non-text examples first. This helps the students grasp the concept and once applied to text, they are able to find more success. To begin, I will play this video clip.
It is the theme song from the television show "Full House". I chose this song because its theme is very obvious in the lyrics. I will also pass out the Song Lyrics to the video and ask the students to underline any words that they used to identify the theme. It is important for students to understand the importance of text evidence when supporting our thoughts.
Once they have underlined the text, I will ask them to brainstorm the subjects or topics covered in the video clip. This also helps students differentiate between simple topics/subjects and themes, which are expressed as a statement and not a phrase or a few words. I will pass out Story Theme Graphic Organizer and have the students complete it with me. We will write the theme(s) of the video clip on the tree trunk, and then use the leaves, branches to fill in our text evidence.
Next, I will ask the students to do the exact same thing with another video clip and with a partner. It is important the students feel that release from the teacher but still get support as they work to master the concept. By allowing them to work with a partner, I am providing the students with support but still providing them with the opportunity to do the work.
I will have the students watch the next video clip.
As they watch it, I will encourage them to write down ideas on the back of the graphic organizer. This will allow them to take notes but complete the graphic organizer neatly.
Once the video is over, I will have the students look through their own notes and discuss with their partner what they believe the theme to be and why. I will have them work to complete the graphic organizer as I walk around and monitor progress. I may also work with students who struggle in a small group to provide more guidance and support.
Once the pairs have completed their trees, I will have them to a pair share with their face partners. This will allow the students a chance to see and listen to their peers thoughts and evidence. This allows perspective in the classroom and for students to understand that there could be more than one right answer. It also provides them an opportunity to validate their work, assist peers, and take ownership in their work.
Finally, I will ask just a few groups to report out. We will discuss their findings and clarify anything.
It is time for the students to try it on their own! As much as we like to model and provide students with guidance, that release time is essential if we want the students to truly master a concept. The only way they are going to get that opportunity is if we allow them to struggle and work through the text.
I will have the students work through stories we have already read in class. This will provide them the opportunity to work with familiar text, but still work on the concept of theme. They will be able to focus on finding the theme and the text to support it, verses using the time in class to read the story. I will be able to provide support and address their needs immediately. I will have them practice with a new story in the next lesson.
As students work through old stories, collecting evidence of theme, I will monitor, reteach, and clarify as needed. They will complete the Story Theme Graphic Organizer for the story they have chosen to use. See Student Work.
To assess what my students have learned and to help them process the information, I will have the students complete a Closure Slip. I ask the students to simply tell me what theme is and how I can identify the theme of the story. The students will be able to tell me what theme is with no problem because we have drilled the definition into our brains today. However, I am expecting them to struggle with the "how to" identify a theme. It is more of an abstract concept, so it requires the ability to really understand the story and author's message.