What comes to mind when you think about the skills necessary for students to be successful readers? Chances are, you thought of phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, and comprehension. And you would be right—these are all essential skills for students to master. But one comprehension skill is often overlooked, and that’s identifying the theme of a story.
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Teaching Theme of a Story
Teaching a theme can be challenging, but it’s important because it helps students understand the underlying message of a story. When students can identify the theme of a story, they can better connect with the text and see its relevance to their own lives. Plus, when students can identify theme, they’re better able to analyze and interpret text—skills that will serve them well in all areas of their lives.
One of the best ways to teach theme is through guided reading groups. In guided reading groups, students can closely read a text with teacher support. This close reading allows students to dig into the text and notice details they might not otherwise notice.
When you’re teaching theme in a guided reading group, there are a few things you’ll want to keep in mind.
- The text is appropriate for your student’s reading level.
- There is a clear theme.
- You will guide and coach students in the process.
This is the lesson plan I use in guided reading groups to help my students learn to identify the theme of a story. It can be used with any text. In this lesson plan, I am using this resource.
Guided Reading Lesson for Identifying the Theme of a Story
Set your students up for success by introducing theme and reviewing how to identify the theme of a story before they begin reading.
You can create an anchor chart that breaks down the standard and make a list of common themes.
- Create an anchor chart that includes the reading standard
- List some common themes found in fiction
- Give them guiding questions to use during the first reading of the text.
During 1st Reading
Students should read the first time to get the gist of the story. They may not be able to identify the theme yet, and that’s okay. I want them to be able to find the answers to the guiding questions and be able to write a summary of the story.
- Students use close reading skills: jotting notes in the margin, circling unknown words
- The teacher supports students by listening to them whisper read
After 1st Reading
- Review the words that students circled as they read. Coach them to use context clues to determine the meanings. (This can be done daily.)
- Students should answer the guiding questions in writing or orally
- They will write a summary that gives the gist of the story. They can share their summaries with the group for comprehension support.
Prepare students for this lesson by reviewing your anchor chart and summaries. Today they will be reading for comprehension, which should include identifying the theme by focusing on what the character says and does.
- Review the steps for finding the theme of a story
- Focus students on finding the three big ideas of the story
- Students read the text for the 2nd time, continuing to jot notes in the margins.
- Students will complete the Big Ideas Map focused on what the character says and does
After reviewing what each student listed as the three big events, ask them to write down what they think the story’s theme is at this point. They may need to refer to the anchor chart for ideas.
Review the Big Ideas graphic organizers at the beginning of the lesson. Today, students will complete the story plot map to help them comprehend the flow of the story and how the character changes and grows. This will lead them to the theme of the story.
- Students will complete the story plot map going back to the text as needed for details.
- Students can collaborate on the story plot map for support.
This is a good time to have a group discussion about the story’s theme. Students should be able to analyze their graphic organizers to determine the big ideas and how the character has grown or changed to predict the theme.
Review the theme anchor chart. Give students the comprehension questions to complete today. They should answer questions in complete sentences citing text evidence to support their answers. You can model how to answer the first question depending on your student’s needs.
During & After Reading
- Students will complete the comprehension questions.
- Check student work as they complete the questions so that you can correct and improve their responses while they work.
Final Reading Activity: Identifying the Theme of a Story
Today students will write a story summary that includes key details and identifies the theme. This will also include support for the theme they have chosen.
Want to help your students cite text evidence when answering comprehension questions? Grab this Citing Evidence Like a Pro FREEBIE!
The Theme Close Reading Resource used in this post was for 4th grade, but I also have one for 3rd grade! You can learn about the 3 tips I share when identifying the theme of a story in 3rd grade here.
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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