Why Teach Theme?

Asking students what the theme is for a story is a great way to check their understanding in a way that surpasses sheer summary. Theme gets to the heart of the story, uncovers its meaning, and is often found “between the lines.”

I introduce theme using the D4Darious video (actually, I use a teacher edited copy, which cuts out a choice word). I’m often humbled by how much more effective short videos are at introducing a concept rather than myself standing in front of the class.

At the high school level, from grades 9-12, students often confuse theme with genre, or simply apply a generic word, such as “love” or “revenge”, to represent the theme.

When I ask for a theme I expect a full paragraph. I instruct the students to introduce the theme in the topic sentence of the paragraph, and generally, to avoid any plot details for the story in question in that topic sentence. The topic sentence is meant to be universal, and the body of the paragraph essentially explains and provides support for why a particular theme fits a particular story. I provide this example for the Terminator film franchise on my student resource page:

You may be able to avoid certain situations, but ultimately you can’t change your fate. We see this theme throughout the Terminator film franchise. There’s a consistent effort by both the Artificially Intelligent beings from the future along with the humans to ensure their species survives. Robots travel from the future in order to alter the timelines they come from, usually with the intention of eliminating a young threat. Humans travel through time or hide from time travelling threats in order to prevent harm to themselves or humanity. However, despite their efforts, the robo-apocalypse still occurs and Jon Conner assumes the role of leader.

Breakdown

You may be able to avoid certain situations, but ultimately you can’t change your fate (a universal statement). We see this theme throughout the Terminator film franchise. There’s a consistent effort by both the Artificially Intelligent beings from the future along with the humans to ensure their species survives (explanation). Robots travel from the future in order to alter the timelines they come from, usually with the intention of eliminating a young threat. Humans travel through time or hide from time travelling threats in order to prevent harm to themselves or humanity (support). However, despite their efforts, the robo-apocalypse still occurs and Jon Conner assumes the role of leader (conclusion).

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