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Lesson Plan: Identifying Themes in Children's Literature

written by: Michelle McFarland-McDaniels • edited by: SForsyth • updated: 9/11/2012

This is a lesson plan for teaching children how to identify themes in literature.

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    Short fiction pieces will be used to teach students an effective strategy for identifying themes in literature. A combination of teacher-led instruction and guided practice will be used to implement the lesson.

    Recommended Texts

    Anthologies and collections of short stories are excellent choices for teaching this lesson. Some recommended texts are Every Living Thing, Micro Fiction, Flash Fiction and When I Was Your Age: Volume 2.

    Prerequisite Skills

    Students need to be able to identify important information, summarize text, make inferences and draw conclusions prior to beginning this lesson.

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    Lesson Objectives

    • Students will understand the concept of theme as it relates to fictional texts.

    • Students will use a strategy for identifying themes in works of literature.

    • Students will identify themes in works of literature.


    • Select a short piece of text that is appropriate for the instructional level of your student group.

    • Provide a working definition for “theme" that is appropriate for your students’ level of comprehension. One definition you may find useful is: The theme of a story is what the story is about.

    • Help students understand what theme is by telling them what theme is not. Explain to them that the theme of a story is not its plot or moral or topic, but rather it is the overarching idea and underlying message in the story.

    • Tell students the theme of a story will be not be stated explicitly and that they will have to infer and draw conclusions in order to identify the theme of a text.

    • Tell students analyzing the traits and actions of characters, plot, setting and other circumstances pertinent to the text will help them identify the theme of a text.

    • Read the text you’ve selected to students. Use the think aloud strategy to point out character traits, character actions, plot and other story elements that can help students identify the theme of the text.

    • Identify some plausible themes in the text and use text references and prior knowledge to support them.

    • Have students practice identifying themes in the text and supporting them with text references and prior knowledge. Coach students as necessary.

    • Divide students into small groups of no more than students and distribute copies of very short stories that are appropriate for each differentiated group of students’ independent reading level.

    • Distribute a hand-out that contains the following questions: What happened in this story? How were the characters in the story changed, impacted or affected by the events that occurred in the story? What is the big issue that was addressed in this story? What lesson was learned or truth was revealed in this story? What is the message of this story? What commentary is the author making about life, society or the human condition through this story? What is this story really about?

    • Tell students to read the texts silently and record important information about character traits, character actions, plot and other story elements in their reader’s notebooks. Tell them to fill out as much of the hand-out as they can.

    • After students have completed the hand-out have them discuss their stories with their small groups.

    • Monitor each groups progress and use observations and anecdotal remarks to assess students’ ability to identify themes in text.

    • Have each group present a brief summary of story and describe the themes they identified, using text references and prior knowledge to as support for their identified themes.

    Application and Extension

    Have students use this strategy with other short stories, poems, novels and their independent reading selections.