During group novel studies, it is helpful to have a strategy to follow a theme with students. I am working with middle school students this year. In order to have higher level discussions, students need to identify more sophisticated literary elements such as themes, symbols, tone, and mood.
I adapted an anchor chart idea I found while browsing Pinterest to encourage students to track a theme throughout our unit on Where the Red Fern Grows. I converted the idea to a printable chart with small Post-it notes students could keep in their binders. There are multiple themes in the story, so my students did not all have the same theme choice. The variety of theme choices enhanced our daily discussions.
Identify Possible Themes
- About a third of the way through the novel study, we reviewed the definition for theme.
- I printed THIS THEME HANDOUT with information on the front about common themes in literature. Using the “starter list” students worked with a partner to identify possible themes for our unit of study for Red Fern. Due to COVID, students stayed in their desk space and talked to the student in the 6-feet-away-desk near them.
- I presented the sample theme, a dog’s love, which we discussed as a group. Students named scenes that related to our key theme idea.
- Next, students received Post-it notes in different sizes, attached the Post-its to the spaces on the chart for tracking a theme, and chose an additional theme for the book.
- As we continued reading, students jotted scenes that reinforced their theme choice. Since we were using Post-its, students had the option to rearrange the notes if needed. Some students removed a Post-it and replaced with a different scene choice as we got further along in the story.
- After we finished the book, and all scene spaces were filled, students wrote final thoughts. They considered what they had learned about the theme through their reading of the story.
Materials for the Theme Chart
- Print a class set of THIS THEME HANDOUT front and back.
- You need 3 sizes of Post-it notes. The first space for the theme name is 1 1/2″ x 2″. The scene spaces are 2″ x 2″. The final long rectangular space is 3 1/2″ x 2 1/2″.
- In order to make the largest Post-it note, I cut down lined 4″ x 4″ Post-it notes with a guillotine paper cutter.