Pitfalls and Solutions to Teaching Theme

We have all been there, right? It is time to teach THEME and we bust out Aesop's Fables. Well sure, that does teach theme...in the most basic of ways. Now, before you start tuning me out because I have *no doubt* stepped on your toes (figuratively of course)...I am guilty of teaching theme this way too!

My Aesop's Fable book is nice and worn, and the kids love those stories...so why not? Well, the problem with ONLY using books with noted morals is, we are putting the students in a box and teaching them that theme will always be that clear. Unfortunately...it is not.

Today, I want to talk about common pitfalls (notice I already mentioned one above) and solutions to those pitfalls when teaching theme.

This is so true...I wish I paid attention to those life lessons when I was younger.

I really love this picture...theme is built into the shows we watch, the books we read, the people we meet, and the conversations we have.

So many times, we as teachers label theme as one word; such as love, kindness, bravery. Yet another pitfall of teaching theme. Love, kindness and bravery would be examples of theme topics, not entire themes.


First, teach your students the THEME of the story is THE MESSAGE of the story. In this anchor chart, I show students the definition of theme and some pretty common examples. 

Note: Be certain your students know the terms theme, moral, message and lesson are all interchangeable terms (and make sure they know what interchangeable means too.) lol. 


When talking about theme, I emphasis to my students that some themes are very common and some are not so common. Make sure your students understand, themes do not have to be "cliche." We all love the Aesop Fables morals, but themes can come in a variety of answers and be written a variety of ways! Accept many answers from your students and let's try not to "box in" their learning. 

So if I am not a fan of Aesop's Fables, how do I bring in literature?

I use many read alouds to teach theme. Here are a list of a few of my favorites!
Before you read any book to the students though, ask the students to be thinking (while you are reading) about the message of the book. If you do not ask this (before reading) the students will not be thinking about that specific purpose during the story. 

Have students practice writing thematic statements with this FREE bulletin board display called "Hashtag The Theme"

I also LOVE this activity from The Secondary English Coffee Shop! After you read a book, have the students hashtag the theme! Students being too wordy when writing there theme has been a pitfall for years! Have the students write their themes in 140 characters or less (#twitter) and it will keep the themes short and sweet! This activity solved my problem in a snap!

I hope I have offered some solutions to the common pitfalls we make in teaching theme (notice I said WE.) I am just as guilty but I have learned over the years that going deeper with theme pays off big in the end. 

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