Focus Question: How is the theme of a story developed?
Say: “Analyzing a story is like being a detective. You search for clues that will help you understand the meaning or theme of the story. Setting, characterization, plot, and figurative language are all possible clues that work together to develop the theme.”
Choose an Aesop fable such as “The Lion and the Mouse” to introduce theme. Read the story aloud and have partners discuss the theme of the fable. Explain that the theme of the fable is called a moral, a guideline for appropriate human behavior. Ask students to state the moral or theme and explain what it means. (Examples: A good deed is never wasted. Actions have unexpected results. Be kind to others because you never know when you may need their help.) Discuss how the words and actions of the lion and mouse help develop the theme and how the use of personification helps convey the theme.
Say, “We are going to read the short story ‘The Monkey’s Paw.’ Read closely for clues that point to a theme. Use think-pair-share to identify the theme.” Instruct students first to think independently about the story’s theme, next to share their ideas in pairs, and then have pairs share their ideas with the class.
“Now write what you think is the theme at the top of a sheet of paper. Underneath the theme, list the clues from the story that helped you identify the theme. Then decide which literary element the clues represent.” [For example, the dialogue and the actions of the sergeant-major and the father represent characterization. Setting helps create the uneasy mood of the story. Imagery such as the woman’s “burning eyes” and the candle’s “pulsating shadows” underscore the impending doom.] “Review the story to see if you can find at least four different clues that support the theme.”
When students have finished, use one of the following strategies to assess understanding:
- Have small groups use cooperative learning to compare their answers. Tell students to discuss answers and come to mutual agreement on theme possibilities with accurate evidence from the story.
- Discuss students’ ideas for the theme. List on the board/interactive whiteboard the theme and clues that support the theme.
You may wish to modify the theme search by proposing three potential themes before students read and then have students prove or disprove the themes with evidence from the story. A sample theme could be “Be careful what you wish for.”
Ask, “What are a few ways writers give clues to a theme?” (Examples: dialogue, actions, shifts in mood) “Many stories have a lesson or message about human behavior. What we can learn from what these characters have gone through? How can we apply the theme from ‘A Monkey’s Paw’ to our own lives and situations? How are we alike or different from these characters? What would we have done in their situation? As readers, that is the point of analyzing a story for a theme.” Help students see that the story is a “cautionary tale,” one that shows what can happen if humans do not pay attention to their moral compass or to the consequences of their actions.
- For students who need additional practice, suggest small-group brainstorming on a movie such as Star Wars or a fairy tale such as “Hansel and Gretel.” Help students understand the importance of characterization to theme.
- Have students who are ready to move beyond the standard listen to a radio adaptation of “The Monkey’s Paw.” Discuss whether a performance of the story aids their understanding or influences their perception of the theme.