Let's Find A Theme in These Classics!

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SWBAT determine the themes of several classic stories and use text evidence from story elements to support their choice.

Big Idea

Identify the theme in some classics! How do you know that's the theme?


  • A few classic books to show as examples   (see powerpoint for ideas – the goal is to have classic stories that the kids have all read – 1 for each student (some students can have the same book) if possible or 1 for each group – fables are good choices too)
  • 'Let's Find a Theme' powerpoint.pptx
  • Whiteboard setup
  • Lesson vocabulary words from the Reading/Writing word wall: connect, theme, infer, illustrations, character, setting, events, problem, solution, onomatopoeia
  • 'Literature Text Features' prompts for the whiteboard
  • 'Theme and Connection' worksheet

Let's Get Excited!

10 minutes

Underlined words below are lesson vocabulary words that are emphasized and written on sentence strips for my Reading & Writing Word Wall. I pull off the words off the wall for each lesson, helping students understand this key 'reading and writing' vocabulary can be generalized across texts and topics.  The focus on acquiring and using these words is part of a shift in the Common Core Standards towards building students’ academic vocabulary.  My words are color coded ‘pink’ for literature/’blue’ for reading strategies/’orange’ for informational text/'yellow' for writing/’green’ for all other words.


Engage Students

  • “I have some ‘classics’ to show you. If I told you I like classic cars or classic toys, what would that mean?"
  • Talk for a few moments.  (powerpoint-slide 1)


Bring Students to A Similar Starting Point

  • (Slide 2) “Classics are things that we all know about. We can connect to classics because they related to the world.  We see classic movies again and again, people drive classic cars for many years, and we might enjoy playing with classic toys.”
  • (Slide 3)  “Stories can be classics too.  Take a look and see if you have read any of these books?  These are classics because they have a great theme.  The big idea of these books are lessons that the author wants all of us to learn.  Whether you are 7 years old or 70 years old, these classic stories connect us."


My kids were very intrigued with these pictures - they knew about the slinky, but had no idea what the computer was. I felt a bit dated  :(

Teacher's Turn

15 minutes

Introduce the lesson

  • “Let’s review what a theme is." (slides 4-5).
  • “Who can tell me some ideas for themes?  What’s the theme of The Ugly Duckling? What about the theme of The Boy Who Cried Wolf?” Take ideas – prompt as necessary.
  • “How can we determine the theme?  Is there evidence in the story that helps us?  Most of the time we have to infer the theme, but the story elements (characters, setting, events, problem and solution) can help us.”  Refer to the 'Literature Text Features' prompts.
  • "Themes in a story help us connect.  What are some ways we might connect the The Ugly Duckling or The Boy Who Cried Wolf?" Take ideas.  Some of my students talked about they might lie to their parents or that some people get more beautiful when they grow up.


I taught the concept of ‘theme’ and ‘connecting to a theme in “Connecting to the Theme With Elmer” and “Details, Details, Details...”.  If your students have not discussed theme, talk about what makes up key details and how to make connections to the story (‘connecting’ was also covered in those previous lessons).

The shift in the Common Core Standards toward the use of classic stories and fables to retell encourages the students to use traditional literature to sequence the details, pulling out the theme and key details of the text. (RL.2.2) Students also are using story structure (elements) and illustrations to support their reasoning of their choices.


Discussion and practice

  • “Here are some themes that we looked at before."  (slide 6)
  • “Classic stories have great themes that have a strong connection to our lives.”  (slide 7)
  • “Let’s look at some classic stories and figure out the theme. What is in the text? What's the text evidence that makes us think that's the theme? How does the theme connect to us personally?" (Slide 8)  Again - take ideas. Kids that connect will remember the ideas more clearly.
  • (Slide 9)  Model a few and then go onto guided practice.  See how they do as a group.  Take individual ideas and determine if they need more practice (there are 10 examples) or if they are secure with this skill after a few examples.
  • Here are examples of how I prompted for a connection in the powerpoint and another example of prompting for a connection.


Connect to Text Evidence

  • To justify your theme, good readers use 'text evidence'   
    • "Let's look at the text features in The Little Engine That Could. What do you think is the theme?  Yes, 'believe in yourself?" 
    • "Most of you have read that book. What evidence is in the words or the illustrations that supports that theme?"  Take ideas - the pictures and words showed that he believed he could go over the mountain and he succeeded
  • "Whenever you state the theme or details about a book, you should be able to verify your ideas with text evidence. By using what's in the book as your reasons for choosing what you did, it makes your ideas stronger. Then others can see how you picked your ideas."

Students Take a Turn

15 minutes

Explain task

  • “I brought some books that are classics for you to look at.  On the powerpoint is a list of themes that the books might have." 
  • “We will be working in groups today, so let’s review the group rules poster."  If you don’t have enough books to have one per student then they can work in groups.
  • "Here is a worksheet  for you to use with your groups.  It has a place to write the theme and a place to add your connection to that theme."
  • Pass out the books to students or groups.  "Take 5 minutes to look through the book and think about some possible themes. Choose what you think fits your book - you may have more than one theme for a book.  REMEMBER: There must be text evidence - pages in your book pictures that you used to find the theme."
  • You'll have to describe how the theme connects to your world.  Your connection should have the word ‘I’ or ‘my’ in it since its your connection.”


Monitor student activity

  • Students may need prompting to find a theme and connect.  The idea is to help them think through an idea with questions and ideas that they can internalize. 
  • Here are some examples of how I prompted ideas for a 'Little Engine That Could' connection.
  • “We’ll share our ideas later.  You have 15 minutes to work with your group.”
  • Walk around as students work and ask questions to see if they can explain 'How and why they know what they know.
    •  "Why did you pick that theme?"
    • "Are there other ways to connect to that theme?"  
    • "Is there a book that has the same theme?"  
    • "Could others connect to this theme or is it more personal to you?"

Apply What You've Learned

10 minutes

Group Activity

  • I have students come up and share their ideas.
  • I encourage them to use some ‘text evidence’ when they explain how they know the theme. I tell them to:
    • show a page
    • describe a picture to read the words
  • Here's an example of one of my student's worksheets.
  • Challenge the groups to see if they can explain their ideas more fully. How much evidence do they have. Remind them that the author purposefully includes illustrations and text and that we have to always go back to these to make connections and understand better.


The idea of text evidence is still a new one for my students, so we are doing this as a group so I can make comments - 'I see that picture shows the train is trying really hard so it makes sense that your theme is 'try really hard'.  If your students have used text evidence successfully before, you may want to have the class help you judge - 'Is that strong evidence? Does he have enough evidence to verify his choice?'


Scaffolding and Special Education: This lesson could be easily scaffolded up or down, depending on student ability.

I included several videos of how to prompt students with limited abilities in the ‘Students’ Turn’ section. They often need to talk through their ideas and may need to copy ideas from the whiteboard for spelling help.  The group work should also make it possible for them to hear other students conceptualize a theme and connection.

For students with greater academic abilities, challenge them to use deeper connections and clear themes.  Instead of ‘try hard’ for The Little Engine That Could, I would encourage them to go deeper with higher level vocabulary, such as ‘face your fears’ or ‘rise to the challenge’.