Kim Grissom
Literature, Reading Literature
Material Type:
Lesson Plan
High School
9, 10, 11, 12
  • Analysis
  • Iowa K-12 E-Curriculum
  • NE ELA
  • Nebraska Department of Education
  • Theme
  • Theme Analysis
  • Theme/central Idea
  • Themes (Text)
  • iowa-k-12-e-curriculum
  • ne-ela
  • License:
    Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial
    Media Formats:
    Graphics/Photos, Text/HTML

    Education Standards

    Using Details to Determine Theme

    Using Details to Determine Theme


    Students often struggle to find theme in literature--one that is not a bumper sticker, a "moral to the story," or anything that could be applied to more than one story.  Understanding what theme is, an implicit argument the author is making, is the first step.  Then it gets more complicated as they realize that there are wrong answers (the ones that don't make sense with the story), there are undeveloped answers (ones that don't get far enough past motif but are on the right track), and there are many possible correct answers that can be explained and supported with the text. 

    This activity uses the Generate-Sort-Connect-Elaborate strategy in small groups to help students focus on the details of the story and how they contribute to the overall point of the story.  It can be used with any piece of literature you deem appropriate for your students.

    Read the text.

    Assign your students whatever text you want them to use to determine theme.

    Read the assigned text.  As you read, remember that the author is using the story and its many details to create an argument about humanity.  Pay attention to the elements of literature the author uses; they are pieces of the argument.

    Here is a list of elements the author can use to create their point. 


    Students will work in groups for this activity.  Assign groups as you like, ideally in groups of 3-4.  MindMeister is an online collaborative mind-mapping tool.  Kids can create an account or sign in using their school Google credentials.

    This same activitiy would work with other online mind-mapping tools (i.e., poster paper with post-it notes, or a notebook and pencil.  It could also be an whole-class activity on the whiteboard or an individual activity, depending on the needs of your students or where they are in their ability to determine theme.

    Getting Started Details:

    1. Go to and sign in using Google.
    2. One person in your group should create a new mind map.
    3. Click on Share at the bottom of the screen.  Then type in email addresses for the rest of the people in your group and invite them to edit.

    The Activity:

    Your goal is to determine the theme of the story using the important details the author has given you.  Remember that a theme is NOT a bumper sticker, a "moral to the story," or something that could apply to other stories.  It is the argument that author is making about humanity--something that is a universal statement (so it applies to anyone).  To determine theme, use this mind-mapping tool to:

    • Generate a list of the author's important details
    • Sort them into categories that are helpful to consider as a group
    • Connect the details that go together or have interesting relationships
    • Elaborate on how the pieces fit together.

    You may build your mind map in any way that makes sense to your group.  If you need an idea to get started, here is one way you might begin.

    Image of sample mind map