I start the class by asking each student to write down his or her own working definition of what "Theme" is. I tell them they will have 2 minutes to complete the task, and that they should continue revising their definition for purpose and clarity until that time concludes. After this time, I ask the kids to share their definitions for 2 minutes in their table groups and come up with the best/most accurate one of the group. After that, I have the students share out to the class, the best one from each of the tables. This allows us to start the day with a collective understanding of the concept, which we will use to guide our work for the day.
I then combine the table groups, so that each group of students now has 7-9 students. Once the grouping has been determined, through proximity, I explain the task and accompanying expectations. The students are expected to build on the discussions had in the previous class, where the students looked at an informational text, two poems, and the anchor text to develop an increased understanding of the anchor text, specifically the experience of being a married woman at the time period of the story. Today, they will discuss the common themes found in the two Marriage Poems and The Story of An Hour, using the collective definition we have agreed to of "theme." The discussion should remain focused on theme, and must lead to a brief "presentation," lasting no more than 2 minutes and 30 seconds, that will be given to the class that expresses the "theme" each group has selected, as well as the textual evidence from each text that supports it. Groups are to select at least one, but no more than two themes and then determine the most effective evidence that supports each theme.
I do not ask the students to create a visual for this presentation, since the presentations are brief and I want the focus to be on the texts themselves.
I give the students 30 minutes to discuss, determine theme(s), find and agree upon evidence, and determine presentation roles. I expect that every student in each group will make at least one statement in the presentation. Aside from that, I do not give the students any further rules for presenting.
In order to support the individuality and independence of each group, I give them four places to meet. One group meets on the east side of my classroom, another on the west side, a third group works in the hallway of my building, and the fourth group works together on a bench directly outside the classroom. As they are working, I move from group to group and listen to the discussion. It is difficult, but I make a conscious effort not to interrupt or interject. I want the information in the presentations to be entirely student driven.
The students then come back to their assigned seating locations in the classroom for presentations. The presentation order is not entirely important, so I just pick a group and have them go for it. Each group presents the theme(s) they selected and then discuss how that theme is relevant and evident in each of the texts. It is a very simple process.
To conclude the lesson, I ask the students to write down which group's theme, not including their own, was the most accurate and well-supported by the textual evidence, and explain in 1-2 sentences why they feel as such. This is done on a Post-it note that I have the students stick on the door when they leave my room for the day.
I find this to be a fun, simple, and effective way to facilitate the students having some closure for the day and time to process the new information.