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Analyzing Theme


As students become more advanced readers they are expected to analyze the ideas that texts bring up. Students need to be able to recognize the big, recurring concepts that appear in text, and to interpret what individual texts have to say about these ideas. By learning to recognize and analyze the theme(s) of texts, students gain the ability to interpret the meaning of a text on a deeper level, and to compare and contrast the messages of different texts in an increasingly sophisticated way. Ultimately, through the study of theme students gain a deeper understanding of the world by spending time pondering the big questions that affect humanity.


Students need to be able to analyze themes in order to recognize and appreciate the big ideas in literature, and to understand the message or meaning of a text. By analyzing themes, students are able to gain a richer understanding of their world and their lives. They can come to appreciate how art in all forms works, throughout the world and throughout history, often centering on big ideas of fundamental human significance. As a result, a study of theme helps students to connect texts with their own lives and their own thinking, and to connect seemingly disparate texts with one another in meaningful ways.

Content Area Adaptations 

Recurring themes appear in every subject area, and a recognition and analysis of these themes can help students to deepen their understanding of content-area instruction. History or social studies teachers might use themes such as the struggle for independence, the tension caused by scarce resources, and the impulse to define and limit group membership. Math teachers might use themes such as the importance of balance and symmetry, and the recognition of patterns. Science teachers might use themes such as the tension between religion and science, and the impossibility of observing without affecting what we observe. Science, history, social studies, and art teachers should have an easy time finding short stories, poems, essays, or historical documents that reflect key themes in the curriculum. Math teachers might have a harder time, but should look into genres such as poetry and personal nonfiction, which often include many mathematical concepts.

Learning Strategies 

  • Determining Importance
  • Inferring
  • Predicting
  • Questioning
  • Synthesizing
  • Visualizing

Common Core Standards 

  • CCRA.R.1
  • CCRA.R.2
  • CCRA.R.3
  • CCRA.R.4
  • CCRA.R.5
  • CCRA.R.6
  • CCRA.R.7
  • CCRA.R.9

Content Areas 

  • ELA
  • Social Studies

Learning Strands 

  • Listening
  • Numeracy
  • Reading
  • Speaking
  • Writing

Conversation Roundtable

This activity helps students to visually and cognitively organize the different ways in which a poem reflects and comments upon a given theme. Through the use of a graphic organizer, students make explicit the implicit connections they may draw between related aspects of the text.

Lesson Plan Stages 

  • Investigation
  • Synthesis

Making Meaning

Making Meaning is an activity or procedure where students are given a standardized and consistent set of questions that provides them with the steps to systematically analyze the meaning of various texts. It helps students to break down the task of analysis into manageable chunks. For example: • What do you notice? • What questions do you have...

Lesson Plan Stages 

  • Investigation
  • Reflection
  • Synthesis

Reciprocal Teaching

Reciprocal Teaching engages students in collective reading and discussion of books. Students learn to guide group discussion and to adopt various roles to engage in four strategies of interaction with text. This activity can help students to become adept at making meaning of even challenging texts, and it helps to foster metacognition as...

Lesson Plan Stages 

  • Investigation
  • Synthesis