Teaching theme begins in 3rd grade when students focus more on the story’s central message or lesson. It’s a great place to start, but 4th graders must do much more. They must learn how to find the theme in a story, drama, or poem and write a summary about it. So, how do we level up our students to the demands of the 4th-grade standard?
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How do you explain the theme of the story to a fourth grader?
Theme is defined as the central message or lesson the author is trying to convey through the story. It’s what the author wants us as readers to learn or take away from the story. It might be love, friendship, bravery, or accepting differences.
It helps kids understand the theme of the story if you can give them examples from books you have read to them or with them. Here are two popular read-aloud books I like to use:
- A Bad Case of Stripes: The theme of peer pressure and fitting in is the overall theme in this fun book about a girl who turns into whatever someone says.
- Because of Winn-Dixie: The main character finds friendship and forgiveness when she moves to a new town with her father.
This theme anchor chart lists examples that can be very helpful when trying to teach theme to 4th graders.
How do you teach students to find the theme of a story?
One of the best ways I have found to help students learn to find the theme of a story is to give them specific tools like this list of steps and graphic organizers that will help them.
Both of these anchor charts are perfect for an introduction to theme and teacher modeling of the steps before students begin reading.
At this point, students have had experience with #1 determining the events in a story and #3 learning about characters. What has been added in 4th grade is the focus on the big ideas in the story (#2, #4). This is a skill that teachers need to model. Students will need several attempts at discovering the big ideas to really understand the concept.
Teaching Theme Activities for 4th Grade
Using close reading strategies as a basis for this lesson includes 1st and 2nd readings of the text. This helps to break down the story and the steps into manageable and understandable chunks for students.
1st Read Activities:
During the first reading, I want students to do three things:
- Get the gist of the story
- Jot down details they think are important (in the margins)
- Identify the main character and their traits
For this purpose, students are given guiding questions to refer to during reading and a Reading Notes Activity to complete after reading.
2nd Reading Activities
Now that students have gotten the gist of the story and the characters, it’s time to read the text again and focus on the big ideas of the plot that will lead them to discover the theme.
- Reread the story and add notes in the margins as necessary.
- Complete the story plot map.
- Students can use the story plot map to help them determine the Big Idea from each part of the story.
- By focusing on the common elements in those big ideas, students can infer the story’s theme.
Checking for Understanding with Reading Comprehension Questions
These reading comprehension questions are an effective way for you to check students’ understanding of the story and the ability to cite text evidence for their responses at the end of the lesson.
If your students need help citing text evidence – grab this FREE resource!
If you need help teaching them how to cite text evidence – check out this post that explains it!
Writing to Summarize the Story
One of the demands of the 4th-grade standard is that they must be able to summarize the story and include the theme. This directed summary will help them learn how to do this effectively if they include the elements listed at the top.
Teaching themes can feel daunting, but it can also open up amazing discussions with your students that will be enlightening and gratifying! They learn life perspectives when they identify themes, so guide them as they learn this important 4th grade standard – but also enjoy it!
The resource I used in this post: Theme – Reading Passage, Graphic Organizer, Anchor Charts, Questions – 4th Grade. It’s a fun story about Taro and a turtle that takes him on an underwater adventure!
This resource is perfect for a 2-3 day lesson on finding the theme of the story for 4th grade.
Teaching 4th grade reading is an exciting process that includes many fun and engaging lessons! Learn more about using character development and how students can compare the points of view of characters in stories in these posts.
Have a teacher friend in 3rd grade? Tell her to grab this 3rd grade Theme Close Reading Pack!
The most valuable resource that all teachers have is each other. Without collaboration our growth is limited to our own perspectives.Robert John Meehan
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