Teacher Tip Tuesday

After a brief hiatus last week, I am back on track for Teacher Tip Tuesday.The tip this week is going to focus on summarizing and identifying the theme.

Unless you are a teacher who has been living under a rock or hiding in a cave, I am sure there has been talk in your school about the Common Core.  Currently for part of my professional development, I am reading Pathways to the Common Core. The Common Core emphasizes that students cite textual evidence to explain what the text teaches.  The students will need to investigate language, explore themes, and analyze the meanings of the text.  So, let’s take a look at the Pennsylvania standards for Reading Literature that focuses on Key Ideas and Details/Theme.  Here are the standards for grades 4, 5 & 6:

Grade 4: Determine a theme of a text from details in the text; summarize the text.

Grade 5: Determine a theme of a text from details in the text, including how characters in a story or drama respond to challenges or how the speaker in a poem reflects upon a topic; summarize the text.

Grade 6: Determine a theme or central idea of a text and how it is conveyed through particular details; provide a summary of the text distinct from personal opinions or judgments.

Whew, this seems like pretty heavy stuff for my little kiddos. However, the good news is that they can do it!  

I am a big advocate of using graphic organizers.  It seems that I create and recreate and recreate my graphic organizers all the time.  Below is the graphic organizer that I am currently using for summarizing a fictional story:

Summarizing & Identifying Theme

This organizer allows the students to identify the characters (who) and the setting (where & when).  It also has a place for students to list the key vocabulary words they want to use when they summarize.  In addition, it requires students to analyze the plot. The students need to think about the events in terms of what happened first, next, then, last and why the events happened and how the events happened. Lastly, there is a place for the students to jot down their ideas about the theme of the story.

During the Millersville Writing Institute, author Kate Messner shared this tip for writing a summary and including the theme.  It quite simply works like this:

This book is about…………  (write the summary here)

But underneath that this book is really about……. (include the theme here)

I think this would be a perfect journal entry after completing a whole class read aloud.  While I feel it easy for our students to regurgitate the events of the story, identifying the theme is definitely a challenge. I even find that some students do not understand what the word theme means.

In Aimee Buckner’s book Notebook Connections, she discusses how she helps students identify and understand the theme – the central message, concept, or lesson that is threaded throughout the book. Buckner states that she actually cheats a bit to assist the students by giving them the keyword before they read the book!  How brilliant is that?!

Notebook Connections

I am going to say that I do not cheat, but I guide my students in identifying the theme.  Enter the theme bank!  Recently I sat down with a dear colleague of mine and we created a theme bank.  This theme bank can be in a reader’s notebook and serve as a guide to help spur the theme thinking wheels.  Keep in mind that once the students identify the theme, they need to cite the evidence in the text that proves the theme. In no particular order, here are some of themes we identified:

  • Friendship
  • Respect
  • Being truthful vs. lying
  • Kindness
  • Generosity
  • Acceptance/Diversity
  • Perseverance/Achieving dreams/Trying your best
  • Sharing vs. greed
  • Adversity
  • Helping others
  • Self reliance /Believing in yourself
  • Overcoming hardships
  • Do what is right
  • Taking risks
  • Admitting your mistakes
  • Forgiveness

Hopefully some of the tips that were provided will help you meet the needs of the students in your classroom and embrace the Common Core.  It’s time for me to sign off, but let me leave you with this quote from John Dewey:

“If we teach today as we taught yesterday, we rob our children of tomorrow.”

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