Building Theme Statements Together

13 teachers like this lesson
Print Lesson


SWBAT determine a theme and analyze in detail its development over the course of the text, including how it emerges and refined by working in groups to transform a motif into a message conveyed throughout the end of the novel.

Big Idea

When students understand the theme of a text, they can truly understand the text's value. Here's an engaging way to decipher theme.

Last Chapter!

15 minutes

We didn't finish the last chapter in class this morning-- just two pages left!-- so we will start this class by reading the ending. I plan on asking some probing questions before, during, and after, so that they are thinking about the reading. Before reading, I will ask who remembers how the novel was originally published, and then what serial publication meant for the readers (they could persuade authors to write something into or out of the text) (RL.9-10.5). Then I will ask what they want in the ending: Should Pip and Estella end up together? Finally, I will ask if they think that's what will happen (RL.9-10.3). These questions encourage active reading and will prepare students to for today's activities.

Of course, there are two endings to this novel: the one Dickens originally wrote and the one the readers demanded. In the former, Pip and Estella go their separate ways; in the latter, they walk into the distance, never to part again. Typically, a great conversation arises from the dual endings. Dickens doesn't provide the gushy, romantic ending his audience probably wanted, but he does provide enough subtle details that the reader infers a "happily ever after" for the couple. Unfortunately, I'm concerned about time and can't let the discussion linger. Instead I will ask that they consider the similarities between both endings and ultimately what Dickens is trying to convey through the transformation of these characters (RL.9-10.3). 

Building Theme from Motif

35 minutes

We are going to work on a theme activity today (RL.9-10.2). Theme maybe the hardest element to "teach" because, while there's no definite right answer, there are plenty of wrong answers. Plus, understanding theme often also requires an understanding of human nature, so it's hard to direct students. I have had success with the following method because it breaks down the steps for the students and helps lead them to theme.

Each group will develop a theme statement that we will use next class, as we start preparing for the final essay on this text. Here's how it will work:

Once they have been assigned their motif (selfishness, family, money, social class), each group will grab a piece of poster paper and some markers. Mimicking this pattern, the groups will work from the motif to develop a full theme statement. The groups will use their texts to find quotes that align with their motif (RL.9-10.1). For instance, the group assigned "love" can select quotes describing love, or lack there of, throughout the text. The next step is to analyze these quote in conjunction. The juxtaposition of Pip's undying desire for Estella and her testimony on being heartless, for instance, will help them formulate a broader sentence on Dickens' message about and portrayal of love.

This activity encourages ownership and involvement from everyone. I find that groups of three or four work best. The number is small enough that every student needs to participate-- ie, there's enough work for all-- but big enough that they need to talk through all the connections and formulate a consensus, thereby forcing themselves into a more precise final statement (SL.9-10.1a).


10 minutes

Each group will present their theme statement to the class and explain how they came to that conclusion. During the activity, the groups worked from the inside circle, outward. They will do the opposite during the presentation: they will start by stating their theme statement and briefly describe how they developed their position (SL.9-10.4). It was important during the activity to work outward, so that they could develop the theme statement, but it is important for each group to here their final product and not necessarily the process. Students will have the option to focus on any of these theme statements when we write the essay, so they need to hear and evaluate their options.  Take a look at the posters they produced.

Wrapping Up

5 minutes

I don't expect to have much time at the end of class, especially since the activity has already been truncated, so in the last few minutes, I will make sure that they have know their homework.

For homework, students are going to write at least a paragraph on this prompt:

If you could change I event in Pip's life, what would it be? Explain your choice.

I love the following three answers: Example 1, Example 2, Example 3. They each looked at the novel and the sequence of events in different, yet logical ways.