EL Support Lesson

Figuring Out the Theme

Most stories have a message for the reader! Help students determine a story's theme so that kids are prepared to compare stories with similar themes. Use this on its own or as support to the lesson Head to Head Fiction Reflections.
This lesson can be used as a pre-lesson for theHead to Head Fiction ReflectionsLesson plan.
GradeSubjectView aligned standards
This lesson can be used as a pre-lesson for theHead to Head Fiction ReflectionsLesson plan.

Students will be able to analyze fiction themes using dynamic graphic organizers for reading reflections.


Students will be able to identify a theme with declarative sentences using strategic partnering and a graphic organizer.

(3 minutes)
Graphic Organizer Template: Frayer ModelThe Ant and the GrasshopperFinding the ThemeFind the Theme FlowchartTeach Background Knowledge TemplateWrite Student-Facing Language Objectives ReferenceVocabulary Cards: Figuring Out the ThemeGlossary: Figuring Out the Theme
  • Ask students what they think the ThemeOf a story is. Have students talk to a partner and consider the meaning of this word. Invite a few students to share their thinking with the whole group.
  • Clarify that the theme of a story is usually the main lesson or message shown through the events of the story. Explain that it is important for the theme to be applicable to anyone, not just the characters in the story. It should be a life lesson than many readers can relate to and understand.
(8 minutes)
  • Project a copy of a blank Frayer Model on the document camera. Write "theme" in the middle of the model and show students how you complete it by writing the definition, a sentence with the word (e.g., "The theme of 'The Boy Who Cried Wolf' is that it is important to tell the truth."), examples (e.g., "Actions are stronger than words. Hard work pays off. Find courage so good can prevail.") and non-examples (e.g., "Little Red Riding Hood met a wolf in forest.").
  • Explain each section of the model and leave it posted or projected for students to see for the remainder of the lesson.
  • Show students the rest of the tiered vocabulary words by displaying the Glossary. Read aloud each word and student-friendly definition and describe the image if applicable.
  • Distribute a Glossary to each student.
  • Write "Sentence" in the last column of the Glossary and model how you write a sentence using the word "despite." Tell students to copy your Glossary by labeling the last column and copying your sample sentence or creating their own.
  • Place students into effective partnerships. Have them work on writing sentences and sharing them with their partner for all of the vocabulary words in this lesson.
  • Invite a few students to share their sentences and correct any errors if needed.
(12 minutes)
  • Tell students that a basic sentence is also known as a declarative sentence or a statement. It must begin with a capital letter, end with period, and contain both a subject and a predicate. Inform students that the subject is what the sentence is mainly about and it is usually a noun or pronoun. Define any unclear terms as needed. Tell students that the predicate is what the subject does. Point out that questions and exclamations are NotDeclarative sentences.
  • Write "Declarative Sentences" at the top of a piece of chart paper. Write a few examples of declarative sentences such as, "The boy runs," "I like chocolate," "That red table is beautiful," and "Mrs. Simpson went to the store." Underline the subject and predicate. Invite students to contribute other declarative sentences to the chart and point out the subject and the predicate.
  • Read aloud the Ant and the Grasshopper story. (Note: skip the prediction and comprehension question at the end of the worksheet.) Model on the document camera how to complete the Find the Theme Flowchart for this story. Underline the problem and solution and think aloud (e.g., "The problem was that in the winter, it is hard to get food to eat," "The ant solved this problem by collecting seeds in the summer and fall to save them for winter time.") to show them how you get the theme ("Hard work pays off.") based on what the character does to solve the problem. Make the connection that each of these sentences is a declarative sentence because it has a subject and predicate, starts with a capital letter, and ends with a period. Identify the subject and predicate in the problem, solution, and theme sentences.
  • Hand out the Finding the Theme worksheet and Find the Theme Flowchart to students. Explain that they will read a short story and complete a graphic organizer in the form of a flowchart using declarative sentences with a partner.
  • Read the story aloud, pausing to emphasize the challenging words taught in the Word Level Focus section.
  • Assign students an effective partner. Tell them to read the story a second time with their partner.
  • Have them complete the flowchart except for the last writing portion at the bottom of the worksheet.
  • Call on a few students to share their flowchart using the document camera with the whole class.
(8 minutes)
  • Instruct students to read the last question on the flowchart worksheet about applying the theme to their own life. Give students a few minutes to discuss their answer with their partner.
  • Have students talk with their partner before writing about a connection they have with the theme.
  • Post this sentence stem to help students begin their writing: "I experienced this theme in my life when ____."
  • Have a few non-volunteers share their application of the theme.


  • Allow ELs to use their home language (L1) as necessary. Provide Vocabulary Cards and the Glossary for all their discussions. Give them simple sentence frames when they need assistance using English
  • Provide student-friendly definitions in L1 and L2 (English) for any challenging words in the lesson.
  • Pair beginning level students with partners who speak the same home language (L1) if possible.


  • Have advanced ELs repeat and rephrase directions or key learning points in the lesson.
  • Provide bilingual resources, such as glossaries and dictionaries, for students to use to look up unfamiliar words.
(5 minutes)
  • Read the following declarative sentences aloud and have students show you a thumbs-up if they think it is a theme and a thumbs-down if they think it is not a theme. Pause after each statement and ask students to defend or explain their reasoning.
    • "Family and friends are important in life."
    • "Goldilocks is the main character of the story."
    • "Slow and steady gets the job done."
    • "The turtle won the race."
    • "Matthew was scared to go to the new school because he didn't know anyone."
    • "Change can be hard, but it's also rewarding and fun."
  • Gauge students' understanding based on their hand gestures and explanations.
(4 minutes)
  • Post a piece of chart paper on the board and write a T-chart with one column labeled "Story" and the other "Theme."
  • Ask students to think of one of their favorite stories and reflect on the theme of the story. Have them turn and talk to a classmate sitting near them to share the theme or main message of the story. Invite a few students to share with the whole group. Record these on the T-chart.
  • Tell students that the next time they read, they should try to figure out the theme of the story and add it to the chart posted on the board. They need to write the title of the story and its theme in a complete sentence.

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