While working with teachers on how to prepare students for the PARCC Literary Analysis Writing Task (see my previous blog here), we realized that students were struggling with Common Core Reading Anchor Standard #2: “Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.” Specifically, they couldn’t “compare and contrast the themes of two different texts” when they weren’t sure how to infer theme, period.
The good news is that I have a tool for this. Inferring themes from a text is a three-step process:
|1. What TOPICS/ISSUES does this text deal with? List as many as you can think of.
(Ex: How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss is about SELFISHNESS.)
2. What QUESTIONS does the author raise about these topics/issues? Pick 1-2 topics to focus on. (Ex.: Why are people selfish? What are the consequences of selfishness? How can people overcome selfishness?)
3. What MESSAGE(S) does the author convey about your selected topic/issue?
(Ex.: People can overcome selfishness with love from the people around them.)
A few hints:
- Although the process is simple, it’s important to provide additional models and guided practice before you ask students to do this independently.
- For fiction, the topics/issues should deal with character traits/behaviors. For example, “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” is not about real estate. “Boundary-crossing” would be more appropriate.
- Questions that begin with “Why” or “How” tend to lead more directly to answers that arguments/messages.
- Themes/messages should be expressed as complete sentences and should deal with “people” or “we,” not specific characters.
Once you’ve completed Step #3, just add water (the title and author) and stir to create a useful thesis statement. For example: In How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Dr. Seuss shows how people can overcome selfishness with love from the people around them.