Teaching Kids to Interpret Theme -- You Really Can Teach Comprehension

Teaching Kids to Interpret Theme -- You Really Can Teach Comprehension

Tim Shanahan

Blast from the Past: This entry posted initially on July 10, 2016 and was reposted on June 18, 2022. This blog explores how to teach an aspect of reading comprehension that most teachers have no idea how to teach. It provides an example drawn from the Common Core standards. This might seem out of date since some states have withdrawn from those requirements (or were never part of them) – however, I did a quick check of the states that have made a big deal of not having CCSS standards… all of them (e.g., Florida, Texas, Virginia, Alaska, Nebraska, Arizona, Oklahoma, Indiana, South Carolina) require the teaching of theme in literature. That makes this blog as important now as it was then -- all 50 states require teachers to teach kids to identify theme in literature. However, these days more and more teachers are buying into the idea that knowledge is the key to reading comprehension and are failing to teach kids how to do things like think about and analyze literature. Big mistake – and one that runs counter to the “science of reading.” The instructional approach described here is very effective across the grades. Give it a try and you'll see what I mean.

Many years ago, my daughter, Meagan, had a homework assignment. Her literature teacher assigned a short story to read and Meagan was to figure out the theme.

The theme she came up with: “People do a lot of different things.”

Needless to say, it doesn’t matter what the story was, that wasn’t the theme. (Though she was a little surprised that I could know that without even reading it.)

“Meagan how do your teachers teach you to figure out theme?”

“That’s just it, Dad. They don’t. They tell you what a theme is and I know what  a theme is,  and then when you get the theme wrong they tell you the theme and that is supposed to help you next time. But it doesn’t because that story has a different theme.”

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