Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Unit of Study on THEME (beginnings)

This week, I am going to do a series on the unit of study on THEME that I've just started in my 4th grade classroom. I knew as soon as I mentioned it last week that I would need to write more about it.

Our district focus for 4th grade writing workshop this trimester is "Literary Essay." I couldn't imagine my 10 year-old writers maintaining any interest in a workshop dedicated to nonstop literary essays. I knew I needed to get my students wrangling with the big ideas they would need to address in a literary essay. Big ideas like theme.

First, I showed my students this video that Doug Noon shared on his blog Borderland, and we started our conversation about the difference between plot (the story; what happens) and theme (the deeper meaning; the author's possible message; the possible message we infer whether the author intended it or not).

My students were completely captivated by this video. We watched it over and over again. Some were so amazed by the tricks that they declared it to be "fake." We talked about the "plot" (a movie about bike tricks) and the "themes" (practice, perseverance, follow your dreams, have confidence, believe in yourself).

(And how did I get this video off YouTube and into my classroom? Zamzar made it into a QuickTime file.)

The next day I shared THE LION AND THE MOUSE by Jerry Pinkney (I reviewed it here). The students picked right up on the themes of family and power and helpfulness.

This video and book laid the foundation for me to introduce the multi-media multi-genre project I had in mind for my students. Tomorrow I'll continue this series with more details about the project and how my writing workshop has been transformed into a composing workshop.


  1. Thsnks for posting this, Mary Lee. We have had discussions about how we can authentically teach the literary essay. I am looking forward to future posts.

  2. Wow, that was fun! I think I'm going to study theme right along with you guys..


  4. Wow! Amazing. I think I might use this tomorrow. We recently talked about theme and are wrapping up our first novel of the year. My 8th grade boys are obsessed with bikes and skate parks. My only concern is that they're going to go try some of the trick and kill themselves! But I guess they'll die with an understanding of theme!

  5. I ended up using this as a review on theme with my 8th graders. They loved it. Some of them had seen it already and were excited to see it again. It worked like a charm! My favorite quote from the lesson was, "Why are we watching this in school?!" (you have to imagine the tone of wonder the boy who said it used. They were truly delighted and captivated! Thank you for sharing this!

  6. Natalee,
    I'm so glad you came back to tell how you used this with your 8th graders. I nearly spit my tea laughing at your comment that "I guess they'll die with an understanding of theme"!!!

    Good reminder of how powerful it is when we meet kids where THEY are with our teaching. It might not be the standards (theme) but it can certainly be the content (video).


Comment moderation is turned on.