The Theme of a Story

While reading a story, there are so many elements to analyze. Students are looking for symbols, imagery, conflict, and figurative language. In addition to this, students are learning how to find the theme of a story. There are so many possible messages that an author is sending students, so the class has to learn not only common themes but how to justify their thoughts. Finding the theme of a story can be really challenging for students to learn because while there is a set definition of the term, there is not always one right or wrong answer.


What is the theme?

Before students find a theme of a story, they first have to know what a theme is. The theme of a story is the underlying message that the author is trying to convey to the reader. However, people often confuse the main idea or summary of a story with the theme. Therefore, it is vital to help students understand that the theme is not directly stated but is implied. Common themes often include friendship, perseverance, compassion, and courage. However, there are endless possible themes! It will ultimately be up to students to select a theme that they can truly justify based upon the reading.

How to Find the Theme of a Story! 

Once students know the theme of a story definition, they are ready to begin finding a theme. Before utilizing a text they are reading, it can help to start with a well-known story, fairy tale, or fable and three simple steps.

  1. After reviewing the story, ask students: “What message or idea is the author sending readers. In other words, what does the author want you to learn or know?”
  2. Allow students to discuss possible themes. For example, if students know “The Three Little Pigs,” they may say the message is perseverance, compassion, or hard work pays off.
  3. In small groups or as a class, discuss details that relate to these themes. Teachers want to be sure that the selected themes truly make sense. If students can justify their response with evidence from the book, then the theme can be supported.

Activities to Help Students Determine the Theme of a Story. 

In order to understand how to find the theme of a story, students are going to need practice. To help build engagement in lessons, a few ideas include: 

  • Task Cards

Task cards are great for early finishers, literary centers, stations, and independent work! They are so versatile and can work in any classroom. In this Theme of a Story Task Cards resource, students have 24 task cards to practice finding the theme of a story. This product is already differentiated by including three different options for students to answer. Students may select a one-word theme, the theme in a sentence format, or write their own theme. Depending on the class and students, a combination of offerings can be used in order to ensure each student is working on appropriate assignments. The task cards even come with two pages of engaging ideas to practice finding the theme of a story! Additionally, the cards can be printed or used with Google Slides.


  • The Theme of a Story in a Game 

Students love competitions! By playing games, students are excited, engaged, and discussing the content. However, it can be hard to create games and take away valuable class time. By incorporating task cards and games, teachers and students are focusing on the content in a fun way! These task cards can be used to set up competitions between groups of students, such as girls versus boys or row versus row, and alternate between groups to compete for the win. Additionally, the entire group or row must agree on the answer to the question, and only one group answers each question aloud prior to moving to the next card. Students will have so much fun competing! Furthermore, this is the perfect format for test review because students are discussing answer options with each other. Therefore, they are working on vital test-taking skills as well, such as the process of elimination.

games theme of a story

  • Scoot

Scoot is the perfect way to get students up and moving while learning! One task card can be placed on each desk. Students complete the card in front of them and then “scoot” around the room with their answer sheet. Depending on how involved the task cards are, establish an amount of time that students stay at each desk. Due to the fact that there is a good amount of reading on the cards, students may need a few minutes. Additionally, it is important to stick with this time to help ensure students do not feel pressured by classmates to move to the next spot. When the time is up, the teacher calls out “scoot” and students move to the next card. While students are moving around, it will be vital to remind them to keep the chairs pushed in to avoid anyone tripping and getting hurt. 

  • Boom Cards to Find the Theme of a Story 

This Boom Card Resource has 120 cards for students to find the theme in a story! They can be used during Guided Reading groups, stations, or centers and are self-grading. In addition to this, the cards are already differentiated. For example, if students are struggling with how to find a theme of a story, there is a “One Word” deck to help simplify the choices after reading. There is also a middle-level deck where students “Choose the Theme in a Sentence” where themes are described in a bit more detail. Lastly, there is a higher-order deck where students “Write Your Own Theme” in a provided short answer space. If you need to know more about Boom Cards click here!


Theme is such an important topic for students to learn. It is a concept they will be asked about from elementary school until high school, so they really need to be comfortable not only knowing what the term means but how to identify themes. Furthermore, it is important that students learn how to justify their answers. The strategies above will help ensure students can identify a one-word theme, a theme in a sentence, and write and justify their own theme! To get started on lesson planning, head over to Kirsten’s Kaboodle to sign up for a freebie on teaching students to find the theme of a story!

I am Kirsten Tulsian, an elementary educator with 18 years of experience as a teacher and counselor. My passion lies in empowering students to discover their inherent brilliance through the use of engaging, rigorous, and meaningful activities. I look forward to connecting with you!

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