We talk all about what theme is as well as how you can recognize it from a story, novel, poem, or passage. The most widely recognized definition of theme among my students is the lesson or message that the author wants the reader to know.
We then talk about what questions you can ask yourself while reading to find the theme. Finally, we come up with common themes that can be found in stories. I like to start small, so we stuck with six to begin with. I take any suggestions that my students may have, but really try to steer them towards themes that the amazing Beth Newingham has on her extra helpful website. I print off the posters that we need from her website and they are a great visual.
Next, we read a chapter from our read aloud novel. Right now we happen to be reading one of my very favorite books, Because of Winn Dixie by Kate DiCamillo. I love all of her novels, but this one is especially great for theme. After reading a chapter we discuss what themes the chapter could convey and why.
Then, my students buddy up and read books from the library that are pulled to cover all different themes. When they finish each book they come and tell me what the theme is and must be prepared to defend their answer.
Once I am convinced that they know the theme of their book they add the title to the appropriate poster. We repeat this process for about twenty minutes or so. By using shorter picture books students are able to get through at least two or three books within this time period.
Finally, after I feel that students have had sufficient partner practice they are ready for independent practice. This is where Rachel Lynette from Minds in Bloom comes in. She has the most fantastic Find the Theme Task Cards. This set has 16 short stories for students to identify the theme. I loved hanging the cards around the room so that students were able to get up and move around the room while still practicing this skill. These task cards also make for a super easy reteach with students in a small group who did not grasp the skill the first time around.