Little Log Cottage School

How to Teach Theme and Why We Need To Teach It

The theme of a story may not be one of those skills we think of to teach.  However, theme is a very important skill kids need to learn to master.  When kids understand how to find a theme of the story, they automatically begin to connect with a story.  When we can connect with a story, our comprehension improves and our love of reading is strengthened.  In order for kids to be masters of determining the theme of a story, we must do a lot of modeling and give them a lot of practice.


What is Theme?

I guess before we tackle how to teach theme, we need to understand what theme is ourselves!  Here’s a little cheat sheet for you:

I begin our theme lessons with this anchor poster.  Theme:

  • The message the author is sharing with the reader (you)
  • Often an important life lesson the character learns

The next step is to have the kids design their own poster about theme in their reading journals or notebooks.  Doing this will help kids:

  • Create a visual reflection: letting kids draw, create, and design a poster of what they just learned enhances their understanding of the content
  • Hands-on learning: the more ways you can get kids involved in all of their senses, the more they will absorb the concept
  • Become co-constructors of their own knowledge: reading out of a textbook isn’t enough.  Kids need to be encouraged to collaborate and brainstorm their own ideas to define content instead of just read about it out of a book.
  • Absorb information: color can be a powerful tool in retaining what is learned.  Be sure kids use their markers and crayons when constructing their own anchor posters

How To Teach It

Teaching theme isn’t easy, but here are some steps to help make it simpler.

  1. While reading, pause periodically and summarize what has been read.  Is there a pattern to the story?  Is there something that keeps happening over and over again?


  • Write or illustrate what’s happening in the story to see if you can find the pattern
  • Then begin asking yourself what the author is trying to tell you about this character.
  • After you have looked at all of the details and patterns of the story, determine what the character has learned.

Because I believe teaching theme is so important, I made a packet to go along with some of our history standards.  I also wanted the kids to practice being able to tell the difference between the main idea of the story and the theme, so I made up a sorting game for them.

And because fairy tales run rampant with themes, I included four different fairy tales to practice.

It only took a couple of fairy tales before they all became theme detective masters!   I know if I hadn’t had taken a couple of days to let theme sink in by including the creation of the anchor poster and the main idea verses theme sort, it would have taken a lot longer to teach theme.  Grab the Determining Theme Packet below!

That was our skill for reading.  What are you teaching this week?



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