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How to Teach Theme to High School Students

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Are your students struggling to understand theme no matter how many ways you try to teach it to them?

I must admit, I too struggled with theme in high school, mainly because none of my teachers clearly taught me the difference between a theme topic and a theme statement.

If I really reflect, my struggles with theme started way before I entered high school.

Throughout elementary and middle school, I was taught that theme was a main idea repeated throughout a text. So, when I would identify a theme in a text it would usually be one word like adventure or justice.

How to Teach Theme to High School Students
How to Teach Theme to High School Students

Are your students struggling to understand theme no matter how many ways you try to teach it to them?

I must admit, I too struggled with theme in high school, mainly because none of my teachers clearly taught me the difference between a theme topic and a theme statement.

If I really reflect, my struggles with theme started way before I entered high school.

Throughout elementary and middle school, I was taught that theme was a main idea repeated throughout a text. So, when I would identify a theme in a text it would usually be one word like adventure or justice.

It wasn’t until I entered high school that theme was introduced to me as a message or lesson that is repeated throughout a text, but I never really learned how to go from a one-word topic to a full statement explaining a message or lesson.

This was a concept that I was expected to already know, when in fact I did not, and it heavily impacted my ability to analyze texts.

It wasn’t until I started my teaching career that I gained a full understanding on theme and how to teach it after seeking help from my colleagues.

I learned that the simplest way to teach theme is to introduce students to the difference between a theme topic and a theme statement.

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Theme Bundle Cover

Theme Topic vs Theme Statement

A theme topic is a broad idea repeated throughout the text that is usually 1-2 words.

Examples: Adventure, Love, Human Nature, Justice, Loyalty, Death etc.

A theme statement is a sentence stating the lesson/message the author tries to teach the reader.

Example: Love can cause you pain.
How to teach theme to high school students

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Once I understood this concept, I was able to see how one could go from a theme topic to a theme statement:

When creating a theme statement the reader must ask themselves, what lesson or message is the author trying to teach me through the theme topic __________?

Something else that had not been stressed to me while in school that is very important regarding theme, is that theme statements are meant to be universal truths and thus no characters or events should be included!

Final Thoughts

Once I began teaching theme this way to my students, it was so much easier for them to:

  1. Understand theme.
  2. Be able to identify a message/lesson that is presented in the text!

The struggles that I had faced with theme, most of my students weren’t going through. They had a strategy they could use that broke down theme into two parts: the main topic idea and the message/lesson!

This breakdown helped my students identify the broadest ideas they saw repeated in the text and then think critically about the message the author wants the reader to learn from that main idea.

I hope this article was helpful and that you use the theme resource with your students!

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