If your students are anything like mine, they have an incredibly difficult time telling the difference between main idea and theme. Before this year, I had always taught the skills in isolation. Main Idea first, followed by Theme a few weeks later. Most kids are familiar with main idea when they get to the upper grades, but it it still tricky for them. Then add on top of that the idea of theme, and their minds are blown. This year, I taught them separately, then integrated them. It has helped with their understanding SO much!
First, we made an anchor chart together where we brainstormed themes and then some fictitious main ideas that could go along with the themes (remember, the students already had background knowledge about what theme and main idea are independent of one another). Here are two similar versions of the theme and main idea anchor charts I’ve made with students over the years:
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|They sorted the definitions as well as a few examples of both main idea and theme.|
After they did the sort, I had them answer the following questions in pairs. Some still struggled with this, but most of them could see that themes were universal, whereas main idea statements include specific details and are usually specific to one story. Being able to look at the statements within the sort really helped them to see these differences.
After they had answered these questions in pairs, we had a really great discussion about main idea vs. theme as an entire class. You can download a half-page version of the discussion questions free HERE.
Later, we started working on theme task cards using brief passages. We all started with multiple choice task cards, which gave students three options, one of which was the theme, and the other was the main idea (the third is just a detail from the story). For some of them who got it RIGHT AWAY, I had them select the correct answers, but then also rewrite the statements in their own words.
Then, the students who had a solid understanding moved on to paragraphs with no options. I did give them a card to help guide them, but they were generating their own main ideas and themes.