Teaching the Literary Term Theme

Teaching the Literary Term Theme


Teaching the literary term theme? Read on for some teaching ideas to implement with any novel or short story.

My children are watching Disney’s “Frozen” as often as I will allow them. I watched “Beauty and the Beast” constantly when I was younger, so I realize the comfort of watching a movie numerous times. They probably don’t realize they are learning the literary term theme. Looking at movies from youth is one way to study theme; here are some more.

Look at “clean” movies

Older students have “clean” movies from childhood, ones that are classroom appropriate and applicable to literary terms.

Disney movies have themes and using them is a great way to relate the concept to students. What’s worked for me is to have students run through a few movies with their themes:

  • “Cinderella”: Be kind to others.
  • “Frozen”: Appearances can be deceiving.
  • “Beauty and the Beast”: Don’t change for other people.
  • “Pinocchio”: Tell the truth.
  • “The Lion King”: Face your problems.

Older students will provide examples of more complex movies, but the entire class may not have seen those. Plus – with ‘younger aged’ movies, students can see that they’ve understood theme from a younger age; they just maybe didn’t realize it. The simplistic themes can give them confidence.

And when they don’t agree with or like these themes – that’s when they realize that they can debate the theme of the advanced novel the class is reading.

Teaching theme with secondary students can require a few tricks. Here are free ideas to implement into any novel or short story lesson plan.

Brainstorm common themes

Sometimes students confuse an author’s “subject” with the story’s “theme.” A theme encompasses more of a statement, a human or universal truthiness. Look at common themes – often ones from childhood stories.

Students will remember the themes of don’t talk to strangers, everyone has a bad day, share with friends, and don’t judge others. They’ll probably provide examples of stories that showcase these themes.

Advance their thinking once they see that. What complex themes does their literature today present? Love is difficult/ unfair, war hurts humanity, and true friendship is hard to find.

Explain that they have always read stories with themes.

Provide a visual

Sometimes students need a concrete object to remember the idea of the literary term theme. This can fit to your personality or classroom community.

The two common visuals I provide are the megaphone and the message in a bottle. The megaphone reminds students that the author will indeed have a theme. I visualize the author holding the megaphone.

The message in the bottle I rename as “the message in the story.” It is tucked away in the pages (in the bottle), and students must look for it.

Normally, one of these visuals gives an idea for students to remember theme.

Applying the literary term theme is vital to understanding the deeper meaning of literature.

Do you need quick, ready-to-teach activities for teaching theme? This bundle has a variety of graphic organizers for teaching theme.

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