Nobody can help Harry Potter defeat that darn Voldemort like the brainy and cool Hermione Granger, the magical maven who helped remind girls that studying and being smart is always in fashion.  Tutorial for your homemade Hermione costume available HERE. Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz can make friends with the unlikeliest of characters, take the worlds longest walk, and save the munchkins from the Wicked Witch all while accessorizing beautifully with her shoes, making her our final, and most amazing, strong female book character.  The photo is courtesy of my adorable daughter, Lily. We’re a group of moms who are willing to save you the trouble by giving you tried and tested recipes, crafts, product recommendations and even local places and events.
Getting students to go beyond the obvious and use their higher-order thinking can be a challenge. Meet Your Students Where They ArePlan reading and discussion around themes that your students are already grappling with, from “What does it mean to be a good friend?” to “What is heroism?” When you connect your literature themes to character development and what’s going on in students’ lives, your discussions will hopefully resonate deeply with your students. One goal with teaching theme, explains Jodi Libretti a senior development editor at the Great Books Foundation, is to encourage students “not only to think about ways that they can live, but the type of person they want to become.”2. Start With Concrete DetailsBefore they can identify and work with the theme of a story, your students need to have a strong grasp of the details: setting, character, plot. When they work with theme, they have to synthesize all that information into an overarching message.
Use chart paper to outline the elements of the story or give students a graphic organizer to follow.3. Main IdeaMany students have difficulty differentiating between the main idea and the theme. The theme is the underlying message that the author wants to convey, whereas the main idea is what the story is mostly about. You might practice identifying themes and main ideas using Disney films or the stories your students read last year in order to have a common reference point. After you review it as a class, give students a list of themes and main ideas and challenge them to work in pairs to create matches.4. Move from simpler to more complex class assignments to help your students deepen their understanding.


Humanities teachers Sara Kaviar and Megan O’Keefe of the Wildwood School in Los Angeles invite their students to work in groups to identify the theme of a fairy tale. Next, they change the ending to the tale in different ways and work together to identify how the new ending affects the theme. Use Essential QuestionsEssential questions are open-ended, thought-provoking, and important in helping students develop their understanding of the theme. Questions like “Why do people behave honestly?” and “What makes a good friend?” are ones that you can return to throughout the year to analyze how students answer.
For more on essential questions, don’t miss this essay: “What Makes a Question Essential?”6. Ask Story-Specific Questions TooSpecific, targeted questions help focus students on the text. On the other hand, questions that are more explicit, like “Where does friendship play an important part in this story?” can be too leading.
Approach Theme From Different DirectionsBe ready to phrase questions about theme a few different ways because you never know which question will resonate with students. Some questions that will encourage thinking about theme are: “What did the author want us to think about?” “What idea stays with you?” “What will you remember about the story a year from now?”8. Accept a Range of AnswersOf course, for many texts, there are often multiple themes and more than one way to express them. Get Away From the ObviousIt’s easy to tease out the theme from some stories (think: Aesop’s The Ant and the Grasshopper). For example, in the Great Books Honesty unit, students read about characters who begin each story by being dishonest. By starting with a character who’s lying, students explore deeper issues of honesty from the start. The careful use of stories, says Claff, opens up issues for students in an interesting, real-world way.10.


Connect Your Discussions to Other Subject AreasDo you see examples in social studies or current events that connect to your theme? Help students connect the theme to their own lives by assigning take-home activities that build personal experiences around each theme.
And when third-graders study gratitude, they give an anonymous gift so they can experience what it’s like to not receive a thank you.11.
Provide a Range of Reading OptionsTo engage students at varying reading levels, provide a selection of books on one theme. When Robb teaches about obstacles, she fills her classroom library with biographies so students can read about how different historical figures have overcome challenges in their lives. Even when each student is reading something different, he or she is still engaging with the theme in conferences and writing. One way to introduce choice is to have a read aloud anchor text for all students, with a variety of stories to choose from for independent reading.
In conferences, ask students to relate and connect their independent reading to the read aloudTeaching theme gets at the heart of what we want for students—authentic, meaningful, and memorable experiences with text. Cleaver has worked as a special education teacher and instructional coach, as well as an education writer and middle grade author. She is passionate about reading and literacy instruction, using technology in education, and connecting educators who are doing great things.



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