3 tips that will help students find themes in novels they are reading | Mentoring in the Middle

3 tips that will help students find themes in novels they are reading

"The theme is that they tried harder and persevered."
Yeah, no.

Keep reading to see what I do to teach theme (and to download the free graphic organizer.)

Picture of student reading with title of blog post to help students find theme in novels

Do you sometimes feel overwhelmed about how to teach all the things when kids are reading books either as a whole class (not something I recommend, but I get it!), in lit circles, or as a read-aloud?  There's a really fine line between making sure kids get the skills and killing the joy of reading!

Teach them common themes

It helps to go over some of the universal themes that are seen in lots of middle-grade books, big ideas like:

  • friendships and fitting in (especially as friends change
  • self-discovery and learning about the value of one's unique skills
  • coping with grief, trauma, and adolescence
  • growing up and changing relationships with family members
  • discovering the wider world around us
Choose novels that have themes that are relevant to your 6th graders' experiences or interests. This can help them connect with the theme on a personal level and understand it better. There are so many good books with strong themes written today! Even the ones that take place in countries that they know little about - or worlds they know nothing about - have characters and events they can connect to.

Encourage discussion

After reading, encourage your students to discuss the theme and how it relates to the characters and events in the novel. This can help them develop critical thinking skills and deepen their understanding of the theme. 

 Start with picture books. Grab a bunch of picture books and let students read them and see what they come up with. 

Two books that I like are The Sweetest Fig by Chris Van Allsburg which has a theme about treating others with kindness and being happy with what you've got.  Another good one is Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña

Use graphic organizers
Use graphic organizers to help your students identify and analyze the theme. This can help them see that the theme is built from the connections between the characters and events in the novel.  Graphic organizers also help them visualize the relationships between these different elements of the story.
Graphic organizer to help students find theme in novelsGraphic organizer to help students find theme in novels

I like to use a graphic organizer like this because students start to look at what the main characters learned and how that impacts the theme.  

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