Mae Clausen
Reading Foundation Skills
Material Type:
Activity/Lab, Homework/Assignment, Lesson, Lesson Plan, Reading
Lower Primary
  • NE ELA
  • Nebraska Department of Education
  • Reading
  • Theme
  • reading
  • theme
    Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike
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    Education Standards

    Identifying Theme

    Identifying Theme


    This Learning Plan was created by Mae Clausen. Educators worked with coaches to create Learning Plans.

    Brief Overview: Students will analyze and evaluate theme and the purpose it serve to readers as they deepen their understanding/comprehension. Students will read short passages and watch Pixar shorts to determine theme.

    Grade Level: 3rd grade

    Lexile Level: 420-820    

    NDE Standards: 

    LA 3.1.6.d  Summarize a literary text and/or media using key details to identify the theme.  

    Learning Objective: 

    Students will be able to identify theme and explain its importance to a reader.

    Duration:  90-120 minutes to complete.

    Introduction to Topic

    Theme is the heart of any story. It’s the reason the author wrote it and the impression the reader will carry away from it. A great story will have many themes and the true beauty is when you feel the theme through the words, rather than the author stating it. A theme is usually implied instead of stated in the story, so students will need to have an understanding of inferencing and use inferring to read between the lines. This lesson helps students realize that theme is an integral part of any story.

    Here is an anchor chart about theme. 

    In order to identify the theme of a text, students must also have the ability to summarize important parts of a text so that they have a clear understanding of what an entire passage says.  Students must be able to distinguish the theme from the main idea.  They must understand what lesson the author is trying to teach and recognize that they can disagree with the author's point of view.  They must have a solid grasp of story elements and how characters change. They must be able to make inferences.

    On top of all of that, students must understand how to actually determine the theme - no wonder teaching theme is so hard!



    In this slideshow, you can teach students how to determine the theme of a story.  It includes short reading passages where students have to choose the best theme, activities to help students practice distinguishing between the theme and main idea, and writing activities to reinforce what students have learned. Stop at slide 5. Slide 6 will be addressed later in the lesson. 

    This slideshow is best used for practice after students have already been introduced to the theme.






    Watch this video to learn about theme!











    n this activity, students will read paragraphs and sort them into categories. They will read different paragraphs but with similiar themes. 

    The activity is provided here, under "Teaching Theme Freebie" but also attached in the resources








    In this activity, students will read paragraphs and sort them into categories. They will read different paragraphs but with similiar themes. 

    The activity is provided here, under "Teaching Theme Freebie" but also attached in the resources









    Possible hemes for Pixar Shorts: 

    Piper: overcoming fears, persistence/never give up; great things come with hardwork; little people/animals can do big things
    Partly Cloudy: friendship; helping others; facing your fears; loyalty; people are more important than things
    Lava: when you least expect it, great things happen; love is unexpected; great things come unexpectedly; love conquers all; love; companionship
    Boundin': never feel bad about yourself; friendship; loyalty; kindness; compassion


        Besides the sheer enjoyment which comes from watching these mini-films, your students can learn a lot about reading concepts from these. They're great for ELL students or for struggling readers, and for all readers really since the text complexity piece is removed.

            You can find these clips on YouTube, but you'll want to make sure to preview them first, so you're more familiar with the plot and are able to focus on theme questions. 

    Show the following clips to your students. Have them explain with a partner what they think the theme of the Pixar Short is. (In the Instructor Notes I have attached possible themes.) If you want them to record their work for each Pixar Short, you can use Page 1 from this document. This document is also listed under Additional Resources. 

    Here are some of my favorite Pixar Shorts for teaching theme:
    Partly Cloudy


    Take this quiz on BrainPop to test your knowledge on theme! (You can click 'review' or 'graded')

     Show your teacher your results!



    This is slide 6 from the slideshow, it has also been attached in the resources. 

    Students will write a paragraph about a child home alone with one of the following themes: 

    -Do the right thing, even when it is hard

    -Appearances can be decieving

    -Everyone has a place where they belong

    Share the story with a parnter and see if they are able to determine the theme! 

    Additional Resources

    Cover Photo Link


    Additional Lesson Plans and Activities: 

    Better Lesson Plan

    Teaching Made Practical

    Theme Worksheets


    Mentor Texts that can help develop theme: 

    -Ish by Peter H. Reynolds
    -I Wish I Were a Butterfly by James Howe
    -Journey by Aaron Becker (a wordless book)
    -Beautiful Oops by Barry Saltzberg
    -The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires
    -Spoon by Amy Krouse Rosenthal
    -Pete and Pickles by Berkeley Breathed