Teaching theme is not as hard as you think. Third graders locate the message, lesson, or moral of a story. By fourth grade, students are ready to link key details to determine a theme. This scaffolds seamlessly to fifth grade, when kids start using characters’ responses to challenges to consider theme.
Teaching Theme in Grades 3 & 4
Let’s take a look at Common Core State Standards for students in third and fourth grades.
RL.3.2 (third grade) – Recount stories, including fables, folktales, and myths from diverse cultures; determine the central message, lesson, or moral and explain how it is conveyed through key details in the text.
RL.4.2 (fourth grade) – Determine a theme of a story, drama, or poem from details in the text; summarize the text.
I like to start with fables in third and fourth grades. They are short stories with obvious morals. Perfect! Third graders set about finding a lesson. Fourth graders look for connected details. Different readers may find different themes.
Let’s take a look at three examples for finding a theme in fourth grade.
Students must convey all of this in written form.
Using this simple template helps fourth grade students organize connected details, find themes, and consider conclusions for their constructed responses.
Teaching Theme in Grade 5
Theme evolves in fifth grade. Students consider how characters respond to challenges to find the central message.
RL.5.2 (fifth grade) – Determine a theme of a story, drama, or poem from details in the text, including how characters in a story or drama respond to challenges or how the speaker in a poem reflects upon a topic; summarize the text.
Fifth graders can use this organizer to pinpoint characters’ challenges and responses. From there, they can find a theme based on one or more characters’ challenges and responses.
Graphics for this post were taken from Finding a Theme PowerPoint 4 and Finding a Theme PowerPoint 5. They provide modeling at the beginning of the unit. From there, I’ve found it works best to work on guided practice, independent practice, and assessment. Finding a Theme Unit 4 and Finding a Theme Unit 5 can be found in my Teachers pay Teachers store.
If you’d like to integrate video, try Disney’s Silly Symphonies. (All have been saved with Safeshare.tv, so no commercials will be shown.) Just show the video and get busy finding themes!
- The Three Little Pigs (8:22)
- The Tortoise and the Hare (8:16)
- The Ugly Duckling (8:38)
- The Grasshopper and the Ants (8:25)
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Enjoy teaching theme!