March 11, 2015

Struggling with Theme

My students struggle to understand theme. They always confuse it with main idea, and sometimes even that's asking a lot.

I recently read aloud Heart and Soul by Kadir Nelson. It's a nonfiction book about African American history and it's fabulous. I love reading aloud Kadir Nelson's nonfiction history books.

We had studied theme about 2 weeks prior, so for fun, I asked my students to write down the theme of Heart and Soul. Their responses were all over the place. 
* One-third wrote accurate main ideas
* One-third wrote accurate themes
* One-third wrote random, barely-connected statements

This result irritated me. Come on, people!!! So I typed all of their responses into so that we could do a class sort. Here's what it looked like before we sorted it:

*** Cue massive discussion. ***

We analyzed each and every one of those bubbles. Some were obvious, but there was hearty disagreement on at least half of them. The students debated back and forth. I tried to stay out of it, but needed to offer nudges every now and then.

Ultimately, it ended up like this:

`I ended up being really pleased with how this experience turned out. The discussion and sort really helped clarify the difference between a main idea and a theme. To double check understanding, I had them write theme for a different book after this and the results were much better (about 80% correct).

We clearly still need to keep working on theme - it's a super-challenging concept! But, we're getting there =)

~ Amanda

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