This lesson works well as an introduction to or a review of themes. It starts with reminding students of a story that hopefully all of them have heard before. Cinderella could be a good choice. First, I ask for a volunteer to remind the rest of class about the story of Cinderella. What they will mostly likely tell the class is the plot of the story. After the share, explain that what that student just did was tell the plot of the story, which is the beginning, middle, and end of the story, the "what happened" in the story.
In this lesson, they going to learn how to describe the story based on the theme and support it with words or actions characters in the story say or do. I explain that there are many different themes one could choose from and that any story can and likely do have more than one theme. There is no "right answer" as long as you can accurately support the claim with evidence from the text.
By asking the class to help with a preliminary list of common themes, I informally assess whether or not students have already had a chance to think of themes before. I also explain that the more books they read, they more they will discover that there common themes, especially within genres.
After a quick brainstormed list of themes is created in front of the class, I ask a few students to tell the theme of Cinderella and use examples in the story to support their theory. For example, Cinderella is about hope because even though Cinderella's sisters and stepmom was mean, she never gave up having hope.
After using a story that most students know in the introduction, I model how to do the work of finding themes and evidence using a story that they have not read before. For this lesson, I chose Cheyenne Again by, Eve Bunting. However, nearly any narrative picture book would work. Just make sure you preview it first to verify that it has multiple themes represented and that students can use character action or communication to support their theory about themes.
I show the class how to create a t-chart with "Theme" on one side and "Evidence" on the other. This is where I will show students how to document their learning and understanding.
I begin reading and on the first page, I have a emotional response to the main character having to leave home. I explain to the class that sometimes we know we have found a potential theme when we have an emotional response. My response was fear because the mom told her son to run away. I write down the word "fear" under the column "theme" and write down that piece of evidence in the "evidence" side. Once I have a possible theme, I verify it by looking for more evidence. I keep reading with that theme in mind. In the next section, the boy describes the people he will be leaving with as seeming scary. That becomes another piece of evidence that I right down on my chart.
Now that I've modeled how to read with an eye out for themes and evidence and how I look for evidence that supports a theory I have, I ask the students to do it.
Before I continue, students need to create their "Evidence/Theme" t-chart to record information. I continue reading the book and ask students to look for other themes, reminding them that there is no right answer, just a supported one and that a book can have many types of themes. As I read, they are to write down their ideas on a separate piece of paper or in their learning journals.
After a few pages, I call on students to share. As students share, I ask if any else found evidence to support theories that were shared. For example, if a student said that bravery was a theme and offered one or two examples, I ask for any third, fourth, or fifth examples. The more evidence we have, the more we can confirm and support our theory.
I finish this lesson by finishing the book while students record their thinking independently. I can use their notes as an informal assessment of their understand of how evidence support themes and the diversity of the themes they were able to find.