Today’s class starts with a quiz on theme. I open the Understanding Theme presentation from the day before and scroll through to slide 20. When I do this they seem surprised. It turns out they thought it would be reworded or put it into a different format. And even more disconcerting, many students said, “You mean I was really supposed to study that?” I remind them that, “This is exactly what you were presented with yesterday and it’s exactly what I hope you recall today. Oh, and by the way, don’t be surprised if you see it again and maybe even again.” Today, not many students show proficiency with only about 25% earning passing grades. More work on this topic is needed! A few samples of quiz responses appears here.
To get a closer look at the literary element of theme, we read the short story “The All-American Slurp” by Lensey Namioka found in Literature: Timeless Voices, Timeless Themes: Copper Level (Prentice Hall, 1999). It tells the story of a young girl (the narrator) and her family as they encounter table manners, clothing styles and other elements of American culture that differ from their Chinese customs.
We read page 517 together as a reminder that theme is often implied rather than clearly stated and to set a purpose for reading this story: to figure out the ways in which the Lin family changes. Next, we take a few minutes to preview the story so that we have an idea of its length and notice the illustrations and vocabulary terms.
I choose to read this story aloud to students so that we can work together to identify the implied theme. Some of the phrases I point out or that they find include “I worried more about making mistakes…” and “I looked completely out of place. What was I doing here? What was our family doing in the Lakeview restaurant? In America?” These clues help the students identify the theme (different cultures have different customs, but all people have similar feelings). The narrator and her family worry about making mistakes in speaking English and in adopting new customs, just as all people do when they are in a new country.
As the reading and this class come to an end, I let students know that they are to answer the Check Your Comprehension questions and Critical Thinking quesions on page 525 for homework. They can get started on this assignment during the remaining class time. Some thoughts on this work appear here: