Teaching middle school students to identify the theme of a text is a difficult task. There are many other skills that need to be taught prior to gaining a real, working understanding of theme. Teaching this concept requires a lot of classroom discussion, high-level inferencing, and most importantly, repetition of the skill in a variety of activities and modalities.
Here are some interesting ideas on teaching theme to middle schoolers for you to try in your own classroom:
1. Thematic Journals
Thematic Journals can be organized into common themes that allow the students to respond to them as they are reading on their own. The beauty of this activity is that students can read what others wrote after they are finished to further connect.
Learn More: Secondary English Coffee Shop
2. Novel Study: The Outsiders
Novel studies bring to life any skill or strategy you are attempting to teach, and theme is no different! This novel study offers graphic organizers and gives plenty of opportunity for class discussions of theme within the context of The Outsiders, a popular middle school novel.
Learn More: Creative Classroom Core
3. Teaching Theme vs. Main Idea
Understanding that theme and main idea are two totally different beasts can be a challenge for students. This activity pits both concepts against each other so middle schoolers can see the difference between the two.
Learn More: The Friendly Teacher
4. Teach Theme Using Short Films
Before even reading, it is often helpful to utilize examples from pop culture like these short films to help students get the gist of theme. It is most times easier for students to recognize themes in movies or cartoons than in texts.
Learn More: Teacher For Inclusion
5. Teaching Theme with Music
You will quickly become the favorite teacher when you start implementing music in your lessons on themes or central idea. Kids connect with music very quickly and this just might be the right tool they need to hopefully gain a deeper understanding of theme.
Learn More: Reading Sage
6. Themes in Public Messages
These billboards brought to you by PassitOn.com can be used to teach theme with their short to-the-point statements. The beauty of these is the messages they send can also help cultivate class culture so you are essentially getting social-emotional lessons AND lessons on central message!
Learn More: Pass It On
7. Universal Themes
Universal themes are a great way to start the conversation surrounding theme. Students can brainstorm theme ideas from texts they’ve read, build upon those similar themes we find in many different stories, and then start to hone their craft.
Learn More: Your Dictionary Education
8. Switch it Up
The goal of teaching theme is for students to walk away confident in their new knowledge. Sara Johnson brings this new and interesting take on teaching the element of theme. A simple sentence starter coupled with paper balls tossed around the room will help your students build that confidence!
Learn More: Sara Johnson
9. Theme Task Cards
Task cards offer a great deal of practice with theme statements as students work in small groups or individually to work through quick texts and find their themes.
Learn More: Pinterest
10. Themes in Poetry
Middle school students need to not only find the theme of a story but also figure out themes in poetry. While this lesson is written for 5th grade, it can easily be utilized in middle school by changing the complexity of the text and utilizing the same procedure.
Learn More: Education World
11. Short video on theme
When reintroducing the definition of theme to your students, Kahn Academy is a great place to start! His videos are entertaining and informative and do an exceptional job of explaining concepts in a way kids can understand and relate to.
Learn More: Khan Academy
12. Independent Practice, Homework, or Rotations
Even after instruction, students will need plenty of opportunities to practice their newly acquired skills. CommonLit.org has texts and text sets that are complete with comprehension questions that can be searched by skill, in this case, theme.
Learn More: Common Lit
13. Teaching Theme to Struggling Readers
English teacher Lisa Spangler gives a step-by-step on how to teach theme to readers who are not quite at grade level. Teaching theme takes a lot of repetition and practice, and an even more direct set of instructions and patience for those students who are not reading at grade level.
Learn More: N2Y
14. Theme Development Analysis
Using the story elements from a text can often lead students to a theme. Thinking about characters, their actions, the plot, conflict, and more will help the students become pros at analyzing the author’s intention for writing and ultimately lead them to a theme.
Learn More: Study
Flocabulary has a multitude of uses in the classroom, even for theme. It is host to catchy music videos, vocabulary cards, quizzes, and more that instantly grab students’ attention. These are fun and memorable additions to any lesson. Watch this video on theme and catch the groove yourself!
Learn More: Flocabulary
16. Graphic Organizers
Graphic organizers for theme support all students, but they can really be a valuable resource for English Language Learners and Special Education Students too. These tools offer guidance on what to think about and analyze, and create a visual map of student thinking.
Learn More: TPT
17. Bumper Sticker of a Text
Bumper stickers make a statement. Coincidentally, so do themes! This lesson introduction by Hilary Boles utilizes these popular vehicle adornments to make a statement to simplify and introduce the topic of theme.
Learn More: Teaching Better Lesson
18. Theme or Summary
Even in middle school, students still confuse theme with other concepts they’ve learned in language arts class. This activity, Theme or Summary, helps them differentiate between two very important skills and further defines the differences through repetition.
Learn More: English Worksheets Land
19. Theme Slideshow
This slideshow is the perfect addition to your classroom and uses well-known pop culture references that your students will easily be able to connect with. When a student is already familiar with a topic, they can spend less time worrying about comprehension and more time on the skill being taught.
Learn More: TES
20. Common Themes Supplement
As teachers, we usually spend more than one day on a skill. Using a handout like Common Themes that your middle school students can keep in a binder or folder for reference as they’re practicing these skills on their own will really improve their ability to work through challenges on their own.
Learn More: Emily Kissner
21. Short Story Project
This is a fun project that kids can do alone or with partners where they choose a couple of short stories and analyze pre-determined parts of the story to help lead them to theme. The finished product has illustrations, author information, and details about story elements that all lead them to the theme of the story.
Learn More: Bright Hub Education
22. Comic Strips and Cartoon Squares
Students can utilize graphic novels to think about and analyze story elements such as theme. After reading, they can create their own set of comic squares that emphasize the most important ideas in the story that will help them with theme.
Learn More: Read Write Think
23. Using a Haiku to Identify Theme
This interesting activity requires students to abbreviate a longer text into a Haiku poem, leaving them no option but to pull out the most important lesson.
Learn More: Read Write Think
24. Prove It! Citation Scavenger Hunt
After all of these awesome activities on theme, your middle school students will be ready to back up their thoughts with this activity: Prove It! This lesson requires them to go back through the texts they’ve come up with themes for and find the textual evidence to then support those themes.
Learn More: Read Write Think