5 Simple Steps for Teaching Theme

If you have been struggling to teach theme, you are not alone, teacher friend.

Typically, my students think the theme is a one-word topic. Or worse, they think the cliche,  you can't judge a book by its cover, is the theme of every single book, story, poem, film, and text message ever written.

I struggled with this for a long time.

Meaning I bit my nails to the quick.

Then I came up with a technique that works like a charm. And I think this easy-peasy method of teaching kids to find the theme of ANY work of literature will work for you too!

Cue the SLIME!

5 Steps for Teaching Theme

1. Establish what theme is NOT, in addition to what it is.

This is tough, as my students think they know what theme is and clearly don't. So we have to identify three misconceptions. 
  • Theme is NOT one word. (Such as friendship or love.)
  • Theme is NOT a command. (Such as you must...or you should.)
  • Theme is not a cliche. (You can't judge a book by its cover. Grrr...)
What IS theme?
Theme is an observation about life that the author is trying to share with the reader.

Then, teach the acronym SLIME to help kids remember the steps for determining literary themes.
Teaching theme is easy with this 5 step process. Since I started using it, my students understand how to find the theme of every story, book, and poem.

2. S: Stands for subject or topic. 

Kids should make a list of all of the one-word subjects or topics addressed in the story.

3. L: Stands for lesson

Kids have to think about what lesson the main character learns about one of the subjects listed above.Or, they can consider what THEY have learned about the subject or topic, after learning about the character's experiences.

4. IM: Stand for idea or message. 

Taking the lesson into consideration, kids have to consider what idea or message the author might be sharing about the subject or topic. We phrase it Perhaps the author is trying to show...
This is the theme.

5. E: Stands for evidence

Kids should be able to prove their idea by providing at least 2 pieces of textual evidence to support the theme. It is important to remind them that if they cannot find evidence to support this new found theme, they might have to start over and identify a different one.
Teaching theme is easy with this 5 step process. Since I started using it, my students understand how to find the theme of every story, book, and poem.

I think the SLIME method works because kids are forced to break the process down into small, manageable tasks.

Try it with your own middle school students!

I guarantee your nails will appreciate it.

And if you have any tips for me, please do share! Everything helps!

Do you need complete LESSON PLANS and oodles of material for teaching theme to mastery?! Check out these step-by-step resources!


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  2. Darlene, I love the SLIME method. I'll be using it this month. Thanks for sharing your creativity.