I teach theme, and I teach main idea. But, I also spend a week teaching them TOGETHER. While they are very, very similar, there is also a bit of a difference. I think having students see the difference is critical. I do this as part of my theme unit, so my primary focus is theme.
I teach theme as a lesson that your dear old granny might say. Something profound and full of a life lesson. The main idea is just a sentence that tells what the WHOLE passage/story/article/etc is about.
Below, you’ll find four mentor texts that I like for teaching both skills at once. I feel like realistic fiction or nonfiction style books lend themselves well to both skills, but they certainly don’t have to be. I like to present my kids with books that have real life themes.
By clicking on any of the pictures below, you can find them on Amazon.
I love books that can be used for a variety of skills. This wordless book is extremely simple (but SO deep) and can be used to introduce or review many reading skills.
Unspoken is about a girl who notices someone hiding in one of their small outbuildings. The setting is during the Civil War, which leaves students to infer that this mysterious eyeball she sees is a runaway slave. Without any words in the book, we can see the main character is helping this runaway by feeding them and avoiding soldiers that are looking for runaways.
Theme: Helping others do difficult things is always worth the risk.
Main Idea: A young girls helps a runaway slave escape using the Underground Railroad.
I’ll be honest, I almost put this book back on the shelf. I thought I had read so many short stories and passage that I probably knew enough about Jane’s story and wouldn’t be interested in this book. Boy, was I WRONG! This picture book shares the curiosity that Jane experiences as a child that led her to research gorillas in Africa as an adult. This book is full of themes and perfect for sharing with students, whether they know about Jane Goodall or not!
Theme: Hard work, dedication, and following your heart can make your dreams come true.
Main Idea: Jane’s natural curiosity and love for nature led her to a career she loves.
What does it mean to persist? What do many people do when someone tells them no…or they can’t…or that something isn’t possible? They quit. But not the thirteen women that are described in this book. Each two page spread cover shares one paragraph about the trials and difficulties about one persistent woman and an explanation of how she persisted.
Theme: When others tell you that something isn’t possible or that you cannot do something, persist. Keep working and never give up.
Main Idea: Thirteen women persist to overcome major obstacles in their lives.
On a Beam of Light
We’ve all heard of Albert Einstein. We know that he was extremely smart and inquisitive. His curiosity, hard work, and commitment to constant thinking and wonder led to major mathematical and scientific accomplishments. These are ALL things that students can learn by hearing Einstein’s story told in this picture book. I loved learning about his life, especially how odd he was. Even his own parents considered him different when he didn’t speak, like typical children. It’s an amazing book filled with so many lessons that inspire you to ask “questions that have never been asked before and dream ideas that have never been dreamt before.”
Theme: Even if others find you odd or different, be yourself and continue to go where your imagination, curiosity, and questioning take you.
Main Idea: Albert Einstein’s life of curiosity led him to discover so many new things about the world around him.
Looking for my theme graphic organizer seen in the photos? Look no further! You can find this graphic organizer as well as many other theme resources in my TpT store!