Lesson Plan

Determining Theme

Summarize and look for relevant details in the story.
Maya B.
Classroom teacher
Excellence Girls Charter School
Brooklyn, NY
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My Grades 6
My Subjects English Language Arts

Students will be able to...

●Summarize the text

●Determine a theme of a story by using details from the text

English Language Arts
Grades 4 - 6
All Notes
Teacher Notes
Student Notes

1 Hook

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Everyone checks out the story Auntie Yang’s Great Soybean Picnic by Ginnie Lo from their LightSail Library. Post the following prompt on the students’ LightSail Class List so they can respond publically using the Think feature.


What do you think this story is going to be about? Flip through the first three pages of the book and look at the illustrations. What message are they sending?

“We all made predictions about what we think the story is going to be about. Share your feelings about the story with a partner.”

2 Direct Instruction

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Explain to the class that the objective for today is to identify the theme in stories. The theme is like a moral to the story or the lesson learned. Teach and model how to do this throughout Auntie Yang’s Great Soybean Picnic.

“When we are identifying a theme, we must first read the story as whole. We should identify the characters, the setting, the plot, and interpret specific excerpts from the story.” Let’s take a look at this excerpt from Auntie Yang’s Great Soybean Picnic by Ginnie Lo, a book which is in my LightSail Library.”

Excerpt from Auntie Yang’s Great Soybean Picnic, Page 7:

“Back home,” Baba said, “We eat soybeans a thousand different ways; salted, dried, pickled, and fried.” “But we like them best boiled just like this,” said Mama with a big smile on her face. “Soybeans are the greatest discovery in America,” I said, and everyone cheered.

“When I saw this, I recorded my thought by holding this quote in my digital book with my finger and tapping Think.” 

Have this thought annotated in the app in your example text. To reveal the thought, tap Past Thought. The Think feature allows you to record your annotation, and mark the Common Core Standard you are practicing.                       

Here is what I wrote for my Think:

From earlier in the story I learned that the family is originally from China, but came to America to go to the universities. Unfortunately, they couldn’t go back to China because of the war. The narrator says Mama was homesick because she missed her family in China. This part of the story shows that Mama found a soybean farm and makes soybeans for dinner. Soybeans remind her of home because that is something they eat a lot of in China. I am starting to think that the theme of this story might be the importance of cultural roots, because of how united the whole family was while eating the soybeans.

“Notice that the first section of my Think describes my background knowledge from earlier in the book. The second part explains what this particular passage tells the reader. The third parts explains what this text makes me think. Last, I tagged my thought to RL.2 which stands for the Common Core standard of determining the theme of a story.

3 Guided Practice

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The students verbally express possible annotations that involve summarizing to identify the theme using the next few pages in the book.

“Now it’s your turn. I want us to read the next few pages of the book together. Now, turn and talk to your partner. Tell them what you think a theme of the story is and use textual details to explain why.”

Have students share their thinking in small groups, and then have two students share their answers aloud. For this question, students should explain why they chose a specific theme by sharing examples from the text that led them to this conclusion. Students’ answers should explain that the theme of the story could include strong familial ties, immigration, the importance of tradition, establishing community, or the relevance of culture. Record using your Think feature for the whole class to see.

4 Independent Practice

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Students read their own checked out book aligned to their Lexile measure (reading level) from their personalized LightSail Library, while taking the Common Core aligned clozes and assessments that automatically pop up in their text. They stop and record predictions/ideas/summaries and, most importantly, the theme using the Think feature and they tag their Think to Common Core Standard RL.2. Have Today’s Think Task posted.

“Now it’s your turn to practice this in your book. Record your Think privately and tag it to RL.2. Use Today’s Think Task for your response.”


Today’s Think Task:

Write one Think note determining the theme of your story. Tag your thought as RL.2.


Summarize the Story:

Describe the lesson or moral that the author wanted to convey:

Use textual details to support your answer:


Suggested Sentence Starters:

My story was about________________________.

The theme of the story was _____________________.

I know this is true because in the story________________________.


While students read independently, monitor what students are doing via your Class Thinking. Meet with students who are struggling by selecting on a particular student in your Class List and using LightSail’s Conference Template. You can share your notes with students and establish future goals for them in the Conference Template, which students can access in their LightSail Goals or their LightSail Previous Instruction tab. 

5 Wrap-up

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Have students make public their best annotation for Today’s Think Task. Use your Class Thinking to identify two or three exemplary responses; have those students share out loud. As a group, discuss what makes a good/deep/genuine text-based annotation.