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  1. Teaching theme vs. topic
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To introduce theme, you first have to make sure children understand the difference between theme and topic.  We used a book we had recently read to give a broad interpretation, and then practiced using Aesop's fables.  Finally, we identified themes and topics in the book we were currently wrapping up.  The following uses the examples I used, but any books your class has read will work.  I used two 50 minute periods.

Day one: I first asked the children, "What was The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane about?"  Many of them said, "The life of a china rabbit." (or something similar), but in most classes, at least one smartie said, "No, it was about how he learned to love by having his heart broken."  (or something similar) Aha!  I shouted, one is the topic and one is the theme!

Then I obtained copies of Aesop's Fables and used sticky notes to cover up the part about the moral of the story.  I read a few common ones like The Boy Who Cried Wolf and The Tortoise and the Hare.  The topic is a lying boy or a race, but what is the fable trying to teach you?  That is the theme!  They discussed with a buddy and answered aloud.

Next, I typed a few lesser known fables up, again leaving the moral out. (Most versions of the fables actually give you the moral...what fun is that?)  They worked in pairs to determine the topic and the theme and recorded the answer on their papers. 

Day two:  We then graded the paper from the day prior aloud in class, discussing sticking points that tripped them up.  A big pitfall was not really "getting" which was which in a couple of classes.  We saw that we could prove with explicit evidence from the text (a sentence or combination of sentences) what the topics were.  Themes were not explicitly stated.  You had to infer the theme.  I reminded them that they had been telling us teachers the topics of what they were reading for years, even a first grader can tell you the topic.  Theme is for big kids, so you gotta figure it out! That did clarify for those who were getting them confused.

Finally we used the book we were currently reading to uncover some of the topics and themes we'd come across so far.  We were reading City of Ember.  We had not finished and could not name the overall theme, just some lesser ones at this point.  This they did on their own so that I could check for mastery.

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