To be honest, I wasn't quite sure how much knowledge my 6th graders would have about theme before this lesson, so I prepared for a full introduction. In the Guiding Question, I asked them to "Make an inference about what the theme of Ninth Ward is."
Of course, as kids were walking in, I got a bazillion statements like, "I don't even know what theme is," or "What is a theme?"
I came prepared, though. On the PowerPoint slide, I placed the definition of theme. "There's a hint on the board," was my reply.
By the number of students who asked about theme, I knew that I really needed to take my time with this concept and I even ended up building in a second day of theme instruction--with the understanding that I'll visit it several more times throughout the year.
I rarely use PowerPoints to introduce concepts, relying more on students discovering concepts. But, I thought direct instruction was more appropriate here, as it's something that they will need through their entire academic career.
I found this Theme PowerPoint online and modified it to fit my classroom and my kids. I liked that it had little excerpts of narrative in it and asked students to apply their knowledge. It was interactive, rather than strictly have students take notes.
When we got to the slides where it asks students to identify the themes of the excerpts, I gave them time to talk at their tables to arrive at an answer. Since it was the first time introducing the concept, there were different levels of mastery going on at each table and I wanted kids to feel comfortable sharing their thinking.
For the second half of the mini-lesson, I read aloud from our book, Ninth Ward and stopped at various points to discuss possible themes. I might say something like, "Here Lanesha is bringing up the foster care system again and, since she's brought it up several times...like the fact that Mama YaYa doesn't get any money from the system, I think it might be a theme."
For their work time, I had the students read their own books, and identify some possible themes. I circulated and conferred with kids who generally have a hard time with new concepts. With my Gifted and Talented class, I pushed them to move beyond the obvious and list several themes.
Students really struggled with things like over-explaining what the theme was. This is when it was nice to remind them that the theme was like the bumper sticker--short and sweet! They also were confusing action with theme. For instance, in a conference with one student, he said that the theme in Divergent was that Tris was toughening up, and was making new friends, and was showing how fearless she is. This is true, but he wasn't telling me that the theme might be "Overcoming Fear," or "Choices Change the Course of Your Life." By throwing these out to him, I was able to clear up some misconceptions.
For the Wrap-Up, I had students jot down what they thought the theme of their book was. If I hadn't had a chance to confer with them during their independent reading, their student reflections were especially helpful for me because I could see if they were understanding the concept of theme.