Themes in Literature

As you can see we've left room to add books over the course of the year. I printed the signs from Beth Newingham's website. (link to the right.)

About this time of year I like to really start exploring the idea of themes in literature. I pull the laminated book covers of the books we’ve read off the clothes line where they’ve been hanging and have the students help me organize them. This is what it looked like today.

  • First I talked about each of six themes.  I asked students to try and come up with examples from books they read recently and explain why they though that book fit in that theme category.  (I start the students with some general themes to help them have a language for discussion.  I got them from this website. I used the older ones and I’m planning on incorporating the newer ones later.)
  • Next I facilitated a class discussion about a read aloud book that could fit into many of the themes, believe me they do!  The students stated which theme they thought the book best fit under and gave reasons why.  Then we voted.  I did this with a few of the book covers adding them to the board as went.
  • Next I passed out the rest of the book covers to partners and had them decide which category to put the book cover under.  They each presented to the class, heard comments back from students who disagreed, and then came to a consensus about which theme they felt best represented the story.

What I loved about this lesson was that I heard my students have really thoughtful conversations and backing their thinking up with evidence from the text, something I am always working on with them.  In fact, one small group even changed their opinion on the theme after hearing their classmates’ well supported ideas.

What I was careful about in this lesson was to not betray what I though was the “right” answer or “best” answer.  As long as students could support their thinking from the text in a way that made sense I accepted their contributions at face value.

What I would have improved in this lesson was starting earlier in the year and letting the students develop their own categories over time.  Although, I’m not sure if they are ready for this yet, but I think I’d like to give it a try!

This lesson was a follow up to a lesson from Steph Harvey’s comprehension toolkit where students are working to infer theme as they read.

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