Stitching themes.

vintage sewing victorian

As a follow-up to “How To Teach A Novel,a treatise on theme. I contend that all the close reading strategies in the world only serve to engage us in the bigger conversation, the “grand conversation’ as my master’s mentor instructed us. (I thank you every day, Dr. Schulhauser.) 

One word: Patterns.

Patterns in terms of speech, actions, reactions, resolution and take-aways. What does the writer believe, what is she questioning, and what is she exploring? Did she take us with her, or leave us confused and behind? 

Theme is, as most language arts concepts, deceptively simple to define, and yet a chasm-size leap of thinking. Like novel teaching, it is process, not a prescription. But there are a few steps to help students over the rickety bridge of thematic analysis.

Yesterday I tried the old stand-by of having them think about their favorite singers/performers. They were instructed to NOT say the names out loud, because I didn’t want to get into a Nicky Minaj/Drake/Bieber war. (Haven’t heard of the great Swift war? Hundreds left homeless, and memes abounded.) I then asked, individually, to name, and then analyze how type of songs they sang. They were very excited to share their ideas, and didn’t get into musical taste battles (too much). We talked about how we choose music to listen to depending on our moods, and we know who will help us with that mood. And yes, they all talked about how Taylor Swift writes a lot of break-up songs.

This access of thinking, breaking it down, helps build their internal trust, of trusting their instincts, and then thinking further to take risks. In other words, it’s one thing to build up all the preparation with close reading, etc. but quite another to have them take a leap of faith over that bridge.

The bridge looks a lot like:

rickety bridge

I want students to feel:

golden gate

A fabulous special education teacher, brand new, young, but an old soul, showed this old dog a new trick:

(seed idea/topic) CAN _____________.

 Think about the beauty of that simplicity:

Racism CAN create monsters out of honorable men.

Misunderstandings CAN create a lifetime of hurt.

Love CAN create wholeness out of destruction.

This clear path to discussing theme may help those lightbulb moments for a few students still struggling to walk across the bridge…and that’s a key component…let them walk across, don’t carry.

Here are some resources about theme:

From Helping Writers Become Authors: I want to tweak this a bit for students.
From Helping Writers Become Authors: I want to tweak this a bit for students.

11 Tips for Teaching About Themes

Teaching Themes: Reading Worksheets

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