Finding the Theme

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Students will be able to identify the theme in a story.

Anticipatory Set

When I did this with my upper level readers, I began by asking them how they find the theme in a story. I asked them if they were ever frustrated when it came time to find the theme, and most of them said yes, agreeing that they didn't really have a method. This, and knowing the standard number, seemed to make them interested in learning it. (They also really like story time.)

Direct Instruction

  1. Define 'theme' - "A theme is a story’s message. It is what the author of a piece of text wants you to remember most. The theme of a fable is its moral. The theme of a parable is its teaching. The theme of a piece of fiction is its view about life and how people behave." Source
  2. Note ways that you can identify the theme. Source
    1. Follow the protagonist. Anything s/he is supposed to learn about life or him/herself is usually an important theme.
    2. Look for any patterns or repeating ideas.
    3. Look at the genre - often, genres have a prepackaged theme.
    4. What mistakes must characters learn from or difficult decisions must they wrestle with?
    5. Analyze the conflict - at the heart of the conflict is often a theme the author wants you to chew on.
      1. Character vs. Character
      2. Character vs. Nature
      3. Character vs. Self
      4. Character vs. Society

Here are some guided notes for teaching the above as well as some guided questions for reading "The Lorax" and finding the theme.


Guided Practice

Read a short children's book, such as a Dr. Seuss book, and look for the theme using the methods above as a class. These are books that I have read out loud to my classes, and the themes were fairly easy to find. Both books provide lessons for all age groups. I read them to my high school students, and it's fun to go in depth and do more close reading.



Independent Practice

Either assign stories to groups or individuals, or use a story or book that everyone has read. Have each student identify something that s/he believes is a theme. This might be a good opportunity for a Think - Pair - Share.


  1. What is the theme of this story?
  2. How do you know?


This is often assessed in Book Clubs, but can be assessed separately, as well.

Theme Assessment 1

Theme Assessment 2

Theme Assessment 3


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