Theme is the heart of any story. It’s the reason the author wrote it and the impression the reader will carry away from it. A great story will have many Themes and the true beauty is when you feel the Theme through the words, rather than the author stating it. A Theme is usually implied instead of stated in the story, so students will need to have an understanding of inferencing and use inferring to read between the lines. This unit helps students realize that Theme is an integral part of any story.
I like to spend a sufficient amount of time on each strategy to allow for an introduction, modeling, scaffolding, independent practice, assessment, and reflection. Therefore, I spend approximately one week on each strategy and follow a similar instructional routine. This is day one of Theme Week – Introducing the Strategy.
Connection: I always start by connecting today’s lesson to something kids have previously learned so that it triggers their schema and background knowledge. Since this is the first they are learning about Theme this year, I start by asking students to look at billboard ads from www.values.com (see resource). I let them know that these ideas have been in commercials they have likely seen before also. After reading them to the kids, I ask them what the purpose of these ads are. Why did someone take the time to make them and share them with others? I give them a couple minutes of thinking time then call on students to share their ideas. Hopefully, they will share ideas like to inspire people, give them encouragement, provide a positive message, or teach you a life lesson.
Teaching Point: This is when I tell kids explicitly what we will be working on. I say, “This week, we will be focusing on Theme, which is the message, moral, or lesson learned in a story. Show them the Theme anchor chart. I say that just as the ads are trying to teach them something, a book or story is meant to do the same thing, which is the Theme. I tell them that our minds should be looking for the Theme while we are reading because it will help us understand the story better.
Active Engagement: This is where students get to try out the strategy that I just taught them. I give them a few minutes of thinking time to decide what the primary Theme is in their favorite books. Then I ask them to turn and talk to their partners to share. Some books might have more than one theme but we have a discussion about primary and secondary themes after I call on students to share.
Link to Ongoing Work: During this portion of the mini-lesson, I give the students a task that they will focus on during Independent Reading time. Now that I’ve introduced Theme, I tell them that when they are reading today, their job is just to notice what the Theme might be while reading one of the books in their browsing boxes. I explain that Theme is not usually clearly stated in the text so they will have to infer and “read between the lines” to find the author’s message. At the end of Reader’s Workshop, they will meet with their assigned reading partner to discuss what they noticed. I remind them that I will randomly choose a few students to share so that they make sure to complete their task.
Transition Time: Every day after the mini-lesson, students get 5 minutes of Prep Time to choose new books (if needed), find a comfy spot, use the bathroom, and anything else they might need to do to prepare for 40 minutes of uninterrupted Independent Reading.
Guided Practice: Today, I would be conferencing with students right at their comfy spots and asking them to share possible Themes from the book they are reading. This is also when I could pull students for assessments, one-on-one reading, strategy groups, or guided reading groups. Because this portion of Reader’s Workshop is meant to be flexible and student based, it is not beneficial to plan too far ahead of time. Instead, you should gauge which students may need extra support through the mini-lesson, prior assessments, reading levels, overall ability and need for scaffolding. For Theme support, I will read with specific students, either with their own books or a teacher selected book, and facilitate a discussion about what they think the Theme is and how they know.
At the end of 40 minutes, I remind students that their job during reading time was to notice possible Themes in their books. I ask them to repeat the term, Theme. Then I tell them to meet with their reading partner to share examples. Did they identify more than one Theme? How do they know that is the author’s message? What events led them to make that choice? After partners have had a chance to share with each other, I ask a few students to share with the class. I then tell the class that we will focus on Theme for the rest of the week. Reader’s Workshop has come to an end so students put their browsing boxes away and make sure the library is neat and organized.