This past week I spent a morning in a second-grade reading workshop. These second graders had been working on taking their comprehension of text to deeper levels. On this day they were learning more about theme.
Earlier in the morning the teacher had read Eve Bunting’s Fly Away Home, so during the lesson they worked together to identify what the theme could be. As I listened in while students turned and talked to their reading partners, I heard responses such as homelessness, perseverance, courage. Some big ideas for young readers, to be sure! The teacher worked with them to elaborate on their single-word answers by finding evidence in the text. Then she sent them off to do this work with their own independent texts.
As I watched the teacher circulate among her students and confer with them about the themes in their books, it was clear that while some were starting to get it, others would need much more support.
No worries, however—this is something they will be working on for a long time! It is such an important skill that it is one of the ten Common Core Anchor Standards for Reading:
#3 Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.
Since my visit to this second grade, I have been thinking a lot about theme—what it is, how to teach it, the strategies for determining a text’s theme. If this is one of the ten anchor standards, we are going to need to equip ourselves with more than one tool in our teaching toolboxes. I did a little searching today and found a great Youtube video that explains theme. Here are the basics about theme from the video:
- Theme is like the moral of the story. It’s the message or meaning.
- Theme is bigger than just these characters and this story.
- Theme and subject are not the same thing. Theme is a debatable opinion about a subject.
- The abstract meaning in the book applies to the real world we live in. The ability to do this is uniquely human.
- Literary works can contain many themes.
- The meaning belongs to you, not the author.
The creator of the video also gives four main tips for determining a text’s theme. I encourage you to watch this clip to help clarify your thinking about theme. (Click the image to watch the video on YouTube).