Lesson plan

What's the Theme? Analyzing Character Motivation

Bring theme to life with Chris Van Allsburg's *The Sweetest Fig*, a story with a great message for young readers to discover. This lesson pairs a wonderful read-aloud with activities and fun videos to keep your students engaged.
Need extra help for EL students? Try theInferring Character MotivationPre-lesson.
EL Adjustments
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Need extra help for EL students? Try theInferring Character MotivationPre-lesson.

Students will understand that the theme is the central idea or underlying message of the text.

The adjustment to the whole group lesson is a modification to differentiate for children who are English learners.
EL adjustments
(15 minutes)
The Tale of Peter Rabbit
  • Engage students in a discussion about theme.
  • Ask them to think about all the possible themes they may come across in books, poems, or movies. For example: friendship or kindness.
  • Organise students into groups.
  • In their student groups, have students write a theme they remember on a piece of the 2x2 paper and say it out loud as they write.
  • Have them do this continuously in their groups for about a minute, writing as many themes as they can, building ideas off of their teammates.
  • Once the minute is up, have the students work together to organise their themes in different categories, whatever they choose.
  • Have some groups share out their themes and how they sorted them.
(20 minutes)
  • Introduce the concept of character motivations to the students.
  • Have students discuss what character motivations are and how they relate to the theme.
  • Explain that we as readers can find the ThemeOf a story by looking at what the characters go after and the challenges they face in the process.
  • Tell the students that you will be showing a video about two characters. You want them to focus on the characters' Motivations: why do they do what they do.
  • Instruct them to jot down notes on what they think about the characters' motivations.
  • Show a wordless video, like a "Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote" video for a minute or two so that students become familiar with the conflict. (Note: you do not need to show the entire video.)
  • Have the students discuss what they think the Coyote's motivations are. Write their comments on the board.
  • Now ask the students to think about what the outcome is for the Coyote. Write their comments on the board.
  • Ask them to connect the Coyote's motivations, what he wants, to what happens to him, the outcome. Explain that the connection is a great clue as to what our theme could be.
  • Have students work in pairs or groups to figure out the theme. Share as a whole group.
(30 minutes)
  • Explain to the students that you will be reading The Sweetest FigBy Chris Van Allsburg.
  • Have them get out their reading journals.
  • Introduce them to Bibot and his dog Marcel. Let them know that they will be recording these characters in their journals and will be looking at their motivations and the outcomes of those motivations.
  • Read the book aloud, pausing periodically to let students share their theories about character motivations and themes.
  • On chart paper, draw two T-Charts with columns labeled "Motivations" and "Outcomes." The first chart will be for Bibot, and the other one will be for Marcel. Have students help you fill out the charts.
  • Have students determine the story's theme based on the characters' motivations and outcomes.
(20 minutes)
  • Have students work independently to finish the Tale of Peter Rabbit worksheet.
  • Have students find the theme by determining what the character's motivations are as well as the outcomes.


  • Have struggling students draw a T-Chart on the back of the worksheet and fill it with Peter Rabbit's motivations and outcomes.


  • Have advanced students write their own short story with character motivations, outcomes, and a matching theme.
(10 minutes)
  • Collect the worksheets for formative assessment.
  • Look for those students who struggle to determine character motivations or inappropriately determine theme.
(5 minutes)
  • Close with the learning target and a quick review of what they should have learned during this lesson.

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