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4 Creative Ways to Teach Theme in ELA

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Theme statements are tricky. There are a whole lot of little holes to fall into on the way to crafting a good one, and if your students are standing ankle deep in the mud, this post is for you.

The goal here is to move kids from writing one word themes like “love” and “justice” to writing complex theme statements. Along the way we want to help them skip confusing morals and themes with statements like “hating people will lead you to bad ends” or glossing over depth in a text with statements like “hate is bad for people.” We’d also like to avoid fragments and those fun theme statements that seem profound except they completely ignore the way the book ends.

Any of this sounding familiar? Don’t worry, I’ve got a plan. In this post, you’ll discover four possible creative options for teaching your students to write better theme statements. Chances are, one will jump out at you as something you and your kiddos could really enjoy doing. One that suits their current needs and will help them become more successful with their writing.


Spot the Error – A Quick Game

If you’ve been teaching theme for long, then you know what your students’ common errors are. Maybe they match up with some of these…

Whichever issues your students tend to have, start by popping a list of them up on your board or projecting them. Go over them if you haven’t yet.

Then challenge your kids, in partners or on their own, to spot the error in faulty theme statements as you show them. (I’m not saying you have to toss candy to those who spot the error, but I’m not saying not to either).

Here are some examples of problematic theme statements you could share.


Hate hurts people.

People should try not to hate others.

Hate is a force that causes destruction.

Hate holds Matthew back from achieving his dreams.

Don’t hate people if you want to be happy.

Give everyone a minute to write down their guess as you project a faulty theme statement, then call on a partnership to reveal the answer. Once you get the right answer, ask everyone to write down a better theme statement, and keep working on it as a group until you get one that will work.

Then continue on to the next bad theme statement.

I figured I’d get you started with this game using these examples, and then you can tweak it and add more slides based on your current text if you wish! Click here to make your copy of the game. I’ll be sending this out to everyone on my email list on Friday – are you there yet? I hope you’ll sign up if you haven’t yet. There’s an easy in on the sidebar to the right.

Create Infographics

Infographics are SUCH a helpful way to boil down information. Not only can they include everything a student needs to know, but they can also feature fun graphics, colors, and examples that make that info memorable to kids.

So why not put students in the driver’s seat on this one? Let them create infographics that show everything they think is important to remember about crafting a great theme statement, and then use those infographics when they’re writing their theme statements.

Infographics could include common mistakes, elements of a strong theme statement, examples of strong theme statements, etc. Plus, pictures, graphics, fonts, and colors that students find appealing.

You can discover more about how to introduce infographics to students with strong examples and clear guidelines, as well as design platforms, in this post. Here’s an example of one I made about theme statements that you can show if you wish.

Reinforce your Lessons with Quick Bellringers

Bellringers are one of my favorite ways to make sure students are all on the same page. If you notice some students are still struggling with theme despite the lessons, projects, and games you’ve been doing, keep circling back now and then with short check-in activities. You can directly address the problems you’re still seeing, run through a case study, or just do some quick practice. Check out some examples below.

Try Theme One-Pagers

Well, I may have to go back and edit my post on “8 Creative Ways to use One-Pagers” because I found another one! This activity is what I’d call a process one-pager. It walks students through figuring out what their theme statement should be, by identifying the moving pieces behind it.

With each piece going to a specific part of the template (pictured below), students start with key one-word topics/themes, choose and illustrate the one that feels most important, identify vital related quotations and analyze how they connect, and THEN write their final theme statement front and center.

You could create something similar, use mine, or give students the freedom to create a theme one-pager on a blank page, if they’re experienced with one-pagers already.

By the way, have you read Darcie Little Badger’s A Snake Falls to Earth? It’s a great add for your classroom library!

So there you have it, my friend! Four ways to approach theme statements from a different angle. I hope at least one of them will feel like a great fit for you and your students.

By the way, it’s such a joy to see what your students do with projects like these. If you’re ever in the mood to share, you can tag me on Instagram @nowsparkcreativity so I can come and cheer you on. It’s also a great place to ask me questions in the DMs if there’s something I can help with.

See you next week. 🙂

hey there!

I'm Betsy

I’ll help you find the creative ELA strategies that will light up your classroom. Get ready for joyful teaching!







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