Theme Worksheets: Practice Identifying & Understanding

When teaching upper elementary students how to identify the theme in a particular story or book, it's important to provide opportunities to practice. Students need to know what theme is and how to tell the difference between theme and main idea. Use these theme worksheets to help reinforce in-class lessons.

theme vs main idea examples theme vs main idea examples

Identifying Theme

When you first start teaching theme, focus on helping students understand the concept of theme. Incorporate the information from Teaching Theme: Simple Lessons Students Love into your lesson plan. Lead a discussion in which you ask students to identify themes present in stories or books they have already read. Consult reading lists from previous years for examples of books to discuss.

Identifying Theme Worksheet

Once you have covered the basics of theme and led an interactive discussion focused on identifying theme, have students complete the printable worksheet below after finishing a reading assignment. This worksheet is an ideal homework assignment for fourth and fifth grade students who are first learning how to identify theme. You can assign all students to read the same book or story, or have them choose from a list of options.

identifying theme worksheet printable pdf

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Questions to Ask

If you'd prefer to provide a reinforcement assignment in a way other than a printable worksheet, consider leading a class discussion in which you ask the following questions.

  1. Who can tell me what theme means? (Provide feedback and discuss, ultimately writing a brief definition (theme = overall message) on the board.
  2. Now that you've all read [insert book name], who can tell me what a major theme of the book is. Write the responses on the board.
  3. Since books can have more than one theme, did anyone notice any other themes in the book? Wait for students to raise their hands, then call on them and add their responses to the board.
  4. Lead a class discussion about the various themes students identified. For each theme, ask students to review the text and share examples where the theme is conveyed in the story.
  5. Assign students to pick one of the identified themes and, as homework, write a brief paragraph in their own words that explains what the author wants readers to learn about the theme from reading the book or story.

Providing Feedback

Of course, worksheet answers and responses to the questions listed above will vary based on the specific book or story students are evaluating. Whether you're reviewing the worksheet, leading an in-class discussion or reviewing homework, check to ensure that students seem to grasp the concept of theme.

  • Ensure that only themes actually present in the work are recorded, providing feedback as needed.
  • Verify that the examples students provide appear in the text and appropriately illustrate the identified themes, continuing to provide feedback.
  • Review the subjective responses that students provide about the author's meaning to ensure they've mastered the concept of theme. Provide positive and corrective feedback as needed. If necessary, ask students to re-do the sentence writing assignment after receiving feedback.

Theme vs. Main Idea

When teaching students to separate the theme of a work from its main idea, it's important to emphasize that theme is an overall lesson learned from the book or story, while the main idea is really what the story is about. For example, the idea of self-sufficiency is an important theme of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, while the main idea is the story of Dortohy's journey with the other characters as they seek the Wizard. Use the information in Theme vs. Topic: 5 Key Differences Explained to further explain this concept.

Theme vs. Main Idea Worksheet

Once you have explained the difference between theme and topic and gone through some exercises in class, assign students to complete the printable worksheet below as an in-class or homework assignment. Since this worksheet builds on the skill of identifying theme, it should be used after the above worksheet. It is still appropriate for fourth and fifth graders.

theme vs main idea worksheet printable pdf

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Sample Theme vs. Main Idea Questions

If you don't want to use the printable worksheet, consider leading a class discussion focused on the difference between theme and main ideas.

  1. Ask students to call out the titles of some of their favorite books.
  2. Write a few titles on the board.
  3. Go through them one at a time, asking students to share what they see as a theme of each story.
  4. Next, ask students to explain the main idea of one of the stories they have read, either out loud, to a partner or in a writing assignment.
  5. Continue on until the class has identified the theme and main idea of each of the stories (or at least a selection of them).

Providing Feedback

While the answers to each question will vary based on the particular book or story, and a single work can have multiple themes, it's important to provide feedback focused on whether students can tell the difference between the theme and the main idea.

  • Provide positive feedback for correct responses.
  • Ask questions when students give responses that aren't quite on the mark. For example:
    • Is that a lesson you learned from reading the story? What lesson did you learn? Okay, then that's a theme from the story. Can you identify another theme?
    • If someone asked you what the story is about, is that how you'd describe it? It's not? How would you describe it? Okay, great; then that's the main idea!

Helping Students Grasp the Concept of Theme

These printable theme vs. main idea and identifying theme worksheets are helpful tools to use when teaching theme. Whether you use the printable worksheets or simply use some or all of the sample questions in class, students will benefit from these helpful activities. To help make lessons even more relevant to students, you may want to lead a broad discussion in which they identify themes of some of their favorite books that they've enjoyed since they were very young. Start by exploring some of the most common themes in children's literature and ask students to give examples of books they've enjoyed with the various themes.

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