December 13, 2011

Teaching About Theme

Psst!  You can now download a *free* poster-version of this anchor chart!  Visit my Teachers Pay Teachers Store here! (edit 10.6.13)

A few weeks ago, we took a two-day break from our core literacy series to spend some time studying Author's Message/Theme.  I love working on theme with the kiddos, and REALLY love teaching literacy with picture books.  Theme + Picture Books = literacy fun.  :)  Here's what we did...

First, I introduced theme by reading aloud "The Boy Who Cried Wolf."  After reading we talked about the reason this story was first written: What was the author trying to teach readers?  What message was he or she trying to get across?  I like using "The Boy Who Cried Wolf" because the message is SO obvious, even the lower readers can catch it!  I then share this anchor chart with them and go over the common theme topics and sentence frames.  
Next, we read Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes.  I ask the students to listen for how Chrysanthemum changes and what she learns throughout the story.  We then mark the "common topics" on the chart paper using post-its, and I model using these topics to state the theme.  (We practice writing the theme as a complete sentence, not just a broad theme like "hope" or "friendship."  For example, the theme we developed for Chrysanthemum was, 'It's important to accept and celebrate who you are.'"  Note: It's important to clarify that the theme should not be specific to this book.  I try to be really clear that the theme of Chrysanthemum is NOT, "Unique names are special."  

After working with Chrysanthemum as a class, the kids broke up into small groups of 3-5 students.  Each group was given a picture book and a piece of chart paper with an outline on it.  They read the book, wrote a brief summary, then worked together to develop the theme.  Finally, they recorded it all on chart paper and shared with the class! 
This group read and responded to The Brand New Kid by Katie Couric--cute book!
Other great books for teaching theme:
  • Smoky Night by Eve Bunting
  • Terrible Things by Eve Bunting
  • A Bad Case of Stripes by David Shannon
  • Mr. Peabody's Apples by Madonna
  • The Wump World by Bill Peet
  • Thank You, Mr. Falker by Patricia Polacco
  • Weslandia by Paul Fleischman
  • The Frog Prince, Continued by Jon Scieszka


  1. I ♥ The Brand New Kid, Mr. Peabody's Apples and Thank You, Mr. Falker! :)

  2. Such a great idea! Thanks for sharing.

  3. Hey, I am teaching theme also. Last week I introduced it and also did an anchor chart. I love your sentence frames. I need to add those to my charts. This week we are comparing and contrasting stories cross cultures.

    We alo read the ugly duckling, king Midas, and the little red hen.

  4. Hi! I'm SOOO happy I found your blog! There are not a lot of 5th grade bloggers out there :( My blog looks poor compared to yours, you are truly an inspiration! :) I will definitely be using your blog as a resource!

  5. I like your ideas. They will work great in my class. Although I teach middle school 6-7 kiddos are resource so they are coming in at about your grade level and sometimes lower. I can not wait to work on theme in this manner!!!! What a great resource you have provided me as we hit theme this week!!!!

  6. I'm glad I came across your blog in my search for project ideas for teaching theme to my fifth graders. It looks like we'll be making charts for picture books this week. Thanks for sharing.

    Stacy @


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