- Understand and appreciate a short story and novel
- Understand and identify the following literary terms: theme, character, setting, and plot
- Identify the various themes in Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis
- Learn the importance of theme
- Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis
- "The Scribe" by Kristin Hunter or any short story with a strong theme
- Board markers
- Paper and pencil
- Theme Organizer printable for each student
- Bud, Not Buddy Rubric printable for each student
- Optional: Projector
- Make a copy of the Theme Organizer printable for each student.
- Make a PowerPoint introducing the 5-Step Plan explained in Part II, Step 4 or write information on board.
Step 1: Identifying the theme in a novel, story, or poem can be a challenging task for many students, because usually many ideas are interwoven together.
Step 2: Introduce this lesson by telling your students they are going to be party planners. They will plan a “pretend” party of their choice and choose a theme. Brainstorm what types of possible parties they can plan such as a Hawaiian theme, 4th of July theme, Super Bowl theme, 90s theme, etc. Remind them to think about their invitation, food menu, costumes/clothing, props/decorations, and activities etc. This activity can be done independently or in groups.
Step 3: Discuss their party theme and details of their party. This should be interesting.
Step 4: Explain that themes are located everywhere (different types of music, movies) but especially in the material they read.
Step 5: Then explain that a theme in reading material is basically like the theme in their parties with many details supporting a major big idea. Tell them identifying a theme can be difficult to detect at times and they must be detectives and use clues from the story.
Step 1: Begin with a simple definition of theme. For example, theme is the story’s main message or lesson about life that the writer wants to share.
Step 2: Take your class on a trip down memory lane by asking them to brainstorm their favorite short story, movie, novel, or book and what do they think the author was trying to tell them?
Step 3: Get your students thinking by sharing your personal favorite folk tale or fable, such as "Tortoise and Hare" or the "Golden Touch."
Step 4: Tell students they will learn a 5-Step Plan to help them understand and detect theme. Write the following on the board or project using a PowerPoint presentation. Students will write:
- Big Ideas in the Text
- Characters' Actions and Thoughts
- Setting and Plot
- Theme Statement
Step 5: You will use the five steps as a guide to uncover the theme(s) in “The Scribe” by Kristin Hunter or short story of your choice.
Step 6: Start by asking questions about the title of the short story. Tell them many times the title gives clues about the theme of the story. For example, I asked my students, “What is a scribe, what does he do, why might this be important?” “How can this help you identify the big ideas in the story?
Step 7: Read the short story with students or have them read it independently. In my class, we re-read and reflected on the short story, “The Scribe” by Kristin Hunter. This story focuses on the importance of literacy. James, the main character, is thirteen years old, and he and his family live in an apartment above the Silver Dollar Check Cashing Service. This business thrives by charging its customers for services such as reading and filling out forms. Most of the people in James’ community could not read nor write. James decides to help his community by sitting in front of the Silver Dollar Check Cashing Service and reading the various forms for the customers for free.
Step 8: Next, ask students to brainstorm the big ideas in the short story independently. Write their responses on the board. Most students will respond racism, illiteracy, community service, etc.
Step 9: Tell students they are now going to find out what the characters’ actions and thoughts are toward those big ideas. Facilitate this activity by allowing students to work with a partner. Have students draw a simple double entry journal on a piece of notebook paper with the headings: Important Quotes from Characters and My Thoughts. Ask them come up with 2-3 quotes that relate to the big ideas they brainstormed and their personal thoughts.
Step 10: Discuss their responses.
Step 11: Ask students to change gears and think about the setting and plot (important events) in the short story and how those things affect the big ideas. Tell them to also think about how the conflicts are resolved.
Step 12: Tell students it is now time to write a statement about those big ideas. Tell them that the theme should not be a single topic or word. This step can be very confusing for students. Tell them the big ideas they brainstormed are all topics, and it now time to make a point about those ideas. It is basically combining all of the information from the prior steps.
Step 13: Share the following tips about theme statements:
- Use complete sentences.
- Think about what the author of the piece is trying to tell you about life.
- Think about what the character learns.
- How does it apply to people in general?
- Example of theme statement from "The Scribe": People can make positive changes in their community and world.
Step 14: Review the 5-Step Plan from the PowerPoint or information written on board
Step 1: Students will brainstorm a list of big ideas for the novel, Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis for homework.
Step 2: Split students into groups of 3-4 students the following day
Step 3: Have the 5-Step Plan from the PowerPoint written on the board or projected on the screen. Review the steps with your student.
Step 4: Explain to your students that they will be using the five steps to help them uncover the various themes in Bud, Not Buddy.
Step 5: Give each group a Theme Organizer printable and Bud, Not Buddy Rubric printable, explain how to use it.
Step 6: They will create a PowerPoint or use Movie Maker to make a presentation centered on one of the themes in Bud, Not Buddy. The presentation must have a title slide, significance of title of book, at least three quotations and explanations from various characters, 3-5 events from the plot to support big idea, the setting and how it affects the big idea, and they must include appropriate graphics and music. Graphics and music are to be done after all the research has been done and documented.
Step 7: Explain how students will use the Theme Organizer printable to plan and organize their information.
Step 8: Encourage students to assign each group member a particular job, especially if your students are not used to working in cooperative groups. For example, one person can research the Great Depression which is a part of the setting, and one person can be the theme statement writer, gathering all of the information from the other members.
Step 9: Groups of students will now compare and discuss their big ideas from their homework assignment and discuss their plan of strategy for completing the assignment.
Step 10: Have a brief, class discussion on the groups’ discussion.
Step 11: Record their responses on the board — they will most likely respond family, friendship, hard work, love, hope and survival. Remind them those are not the actual themes but big ideas or topics.
Step 12: Write the previous topics on small pieces of paper, fold, place in box and have each group choose a big idea topic. Each group will be responsible for a big idea topic.
Step 13: Take one of the themes from the novel and model the process for your students. Here are some questions to help students get started:
- Why is family a possible big idea in Bud, Not Buddy?
- How does the title of the novel relate to family? Tell students to think about the various families in the novel — Amos family, Lefty Lewis’ family, Herman Calloway’s Band.
- How does the setting affect the different families in the novel? Students should research the Great Depression, Flint Michigan in the 1930s, Ride the Rails.
- Explore the various characters and their thoughts and actions toward family: Bud, Bud’s mother, Herman Calloway, Lefty Lewis, and Miss Thomas
- How does the plot affect the big idea, family — Bud Caldwell’s Rules and Things for Having a Funner Life and Making a Better Liar Out of Yourself, and Herman Calloway and Bud’s conflict.
Step 14: Students will have to research various websites in order to complete the above.
Step 15: Give students ample time to complete assignment.
Step 16: Students will present their presentations to the class.
Step 17: Encourage students to ask questions and make appropriate statements of the group presenting.
Supporting All Learners
Various learning styles are addressed; visual, spatial, and kinesthetic.
- Students choose and read poetry of their choice and identify the theme(s).
- Students select a favorite appropriate song and write about the theme.
- Students practice creative writing by writing a short story with a theme(s).
Students discuss and explain the concept of theme with their parents.
Students will complete the Theme Organizer printable, double entry journal, and presentation.
The concept of theme is universal. Are the students able to apply the concept to their everyday lives?
- Question students and listen to their responses.
- Listen to their verbal interactions with their peers in their cooperative groups.
- Evaluate the theme graphic organizer and presentations.
- Analyze literary texts to draw conclusions and make inferences.
- Create responses to literary texts through a variety of methods such as written works, oral presentations, media productions, and the visual and performing arts.
- Carry out independent reading for extended periods of time to derive pleasure.