Saturday, July 6, 2013

Teaching Theme in Upper Elementary

Do you teach theme to your students?
If your state is moving to Common Core,
then on some level you probably do.
With Common Core, they start as early as first grade.
CCSS RL.1.2 Retell stories, including key details, anddemonstrate understanding of their central message or lesson.

So if in 1st-3rd we are teaching students to identify the central message to a story,
Then what do we do in 4th and 5th to challenge the students to do more then just identify the theme.
I know Common Core changes it up a bit by exposing the students to myths, legends, poems, etc.
But what does/should teaching theme look like in upper elementary?

This question is on my mind because I am currently working on revisions to unit 3 reading and writing for the 5th grade teachers in my district.
When I looked over the unit I created last year, I thought it looked pretty good.
But since we are doing revisions, I wanted to take time to really think about what we included in our first draft,
And make sure we were upping the standards.

I have kind of been avoiding Pinterest.
I just REALLY needed a break from teaching thoughts.
Tonight, though, I decided to get on there and check out what Pinterest had on theme.

So I wanted to share some of the things I found.

Let's start with anchor charts...

I liked this anchor chart because it includes evidence from the text in the roots.

I linked this anchor chart to the blog it came from because there are some great ideas to go along with this.
Plus she uses Patricia Polacco, whom I LOVE!!!

I REALLY liked this anchor chart because it is thorough.
It has common themes
Questions to determine theme
Clues to infer theme
The only thing I might add to it is the definition!

Now for mentor texts...
I almost didn't include this because there are SO many great ones!
But I thought I'd give you just a few.
And a new one I found at the end of last year.
All but the last one I have posted about before...

To me, these books all have powerful themes which could teach students some wonderful life lessons.
If you haven't read them,
You should really check them out!

I stumbled upon this book at the end of the year and do not think I have posted about it.
Here is the synopsis from Amazon:
Walking to school can be hard if you live in Belfast, Northern Ireland. It's downright dangerous if you're a Catholic, like Allison, and the shortest route to your school goes through a Protestant neighborhood. But sometimes a ray of kindness cuts through the violence. That's what happens when a demonstrator rips a brass button off Allison's new school blazer, and a Protestant girl not only retrieves the button but returns it to Allison.

Once again, as in FLY AWAY HOME and the caldecott-winning SMOKY NIGHT, Eve Bunting finds a way to explore a complicated contemporary situation in terms that any young reader can immediately grasp.

When I finished reading this book, all I could think was WOW!
I don't like giving away the ending to a book
But I can't help myself!
Ignore the next few lines if you don't want to spoil it.  (I used italics so you'll know which.)

After Allison's encounter with the protestant girl and her kindness,
she thinks, "We could be friends if our parents let us."
How true is that in today's society??
This message can be applied to so many situations.

OK- spoiler is over!

Last, some activities to do with theme:

I am not a big fan of graphic organizers because I like using reading notebooks, but I liked the two above because they require the students to identify the theme and give some form of evidence from the text to support their thinking.

I linked the image above to the blog because there are some great middle school ideas on it which can be used in upper elementary as well.
This teacher uses theme songs to teach how to determine theme.
She has some great ideas!

These are all just a few of the many theme Pins.
I plan to continue researching this standard,
And try to find ways to make it more challenging for upper elementary.

Do you teach theme to your students?
What great ideas do you have for teaching this standard?

I would love to hear from you!
Antoinette :)


  1. I taught third grade last year, but I am looping up with them to 4th, so these are some great resources for expanding on the idea of the message of a story to theme! Thank you!

  2. Ditto to Kelly's comment! Thanks so much!!!

    :) Nicole
    Tadpole Tidbits