Theme Lesson for Kids: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:02 What Is Theme?
  • 1:05 What Are Some Common Themes?
  • 1:28 Example
  • 2:55 Theme vs. Main Idea
  • 3:20 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor
Shelley Vessels

Shelley has taught at the middle school level for 10 years and has a master's degree in teaching English.

Expert Contributor
Maria Airth

Maria has a Doctorate of Education and over 20 years of experience teaching psychology and math related courses at the university level.

Every story has a theme, sometimes multiple themes! Once you understand theme, you'll begin to understand what you read much better. Read on to learn what theme is and how to identify theme in a story.

What Is Theme?

Theme is an underlying message or the big idea of a story. This message could tell more about human nature or life in general. Many stories have more than one theme.

There are several ways a reader can piece together the story's theme. The reader can ask himself or herself these questions:

  • Do the characters learn anything throughout the story?
  • Do the characters change at all?
  • Do the characters have any beliefs about life or people in general?
  • Why do the characters act the way they do?

The theme of a story is never directly told to the reader. It needs to be figured out by making an inference. An inference is putting together puzzle pieces to determine a larger picture.

If your mother started putting on her galoshes and raincoat, what could you infer the weather is like? You could infer that it is either raining, or it will rain soon. No one needed to tell you the weather forecast. You can infer that by putting the information together.

What Are Some Common Themes?

There are several themes that typically show up in stories. These include:

  • Courage
  • Perseverance
  • Family
  • Friendship
  • Growing up
  • Acceptance
  • Loyalty
  • Transformation
  • Compassion
  • Honesty
  • Cooperation

Examples

Let's go through an example and try to figure out the theme of a well-known fairy tale, Cinderella. This story's very old and is about a kind and hard working girl who is treated badly by her step mother and step sisters. Even though she finishes all her chores so that she can go to the ball at the prince's castle, her stepfamily doesn't let her go. A fairy godmother comes to Cinderella and gives her all she needs to go to the ball: a dress, shoes, and a pumpkin carriage. At the ball, the prince falls in love with her and, eventually, they live happily ever after. Any idea of the theme of this story? I'll give you a few seconds to look over our list and decide which ones you think fit best.

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Additional Activities

Finding the Themes Activity

In this activity, your students will practice finding the themes of their own favorite stories.

Materials

  • Multiple books at your students' reading levels
  • A sample story to work through with your students
  • Worksheet listing the questions from the lesson:
    • Do the characters learn anything throughout the story?
    • Do the characters change at all?
    • Do the characters have any beliefs about life or people in general?
    • Why do the characters act the way they do?

Instructions

  • After viewing the video lesson, tell your students that you will work through another example story with them.
  • Choose a well-known story (maybe one you've read with the class before or a classic tale) and read through the story in full.
  • Now, go back to the beginning of the story and work through the questions asked in the lesson.
    • Allow your students to volunteer the answers to the questions as you ask them.
    • Turn to the sections of the story that show evidence for the answer to help students that are having trouble identifying the answers.
  • After answering all the questions, review the answers with your students and ask them if they can see any patterns in the answers that might identify the theme of the story.
    • You might want to display the main themes listed in the lesson.
  • Instruct your students to choose one story book from the provided set. They may choose a story they know well instead of a book, if desired.
  • Hand out the worksheet with the questions.
    • Students must write the answer to the questions for their chosen story.
    • Students must identify the theme for their story based on the answers to their questions.
    • Students must write a very brief defense for the theme they have chosen. For example:
      • The theme of the Three Little Pigs is work ethic and the outcomes of different levels of work ethic.

Alternatives

  • You may want to discuss the definitions of each theme before displaying a list of themes on the board.
  • You may enjoy asking students to add to the list of common themes.
  • If students are not skilled enough to given in-depth written answers, allow for time for students to present their theme findings to the class orally.

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