This past Tuesday we began the third and final “bend” in the Calkins Deep Study of Character unit of study for middle grades reading.  I personally did not care for the mini-lessons and the methods for framing/introducing theme, so I decided to keep the key concepts but design a different path to the same ends.

We began Tuesday by looking at the poem “Harlem” (also known as “Dream Deferred”) by the wonderful poet Langston Hughes.  I chose this poem for its conciseness, structure, metaphors, and rich language.  Each student received a copy of the poem to tape or glue into his/her notebook for the warm-up.  We then talked a little about the background of the poem–the poet, the time period in which it was composed, and some of the vocabulary.

I then read the poem aloud and asked students to think about the words and images they heard and saw as I read to them.  I then asked students to consider the following and jot their ideas into their notebooks and to write on/around the poem as they put their thoughts to paper:

We then shared out our thoughts and ideas as a class.  I marked up the poem as students noted strong word choices and images.

Next, we considered these three questions; students composed their thoughts into their notebooks.


This past of the discussion was especially rich as students shared their thinking.  My 5th and 6th period classes in particular really pushed their thinking and had more nuanced responses to the three prompts.  I continued to mark up their thinking as we shared out ideas, and students jotted down ideas of interest from their peers as we looked at the literary elements we had deconstructed and then tried to look at those pieces as a whole to infer possible themes.

We concluded with a short discussion about definitions of theme, thematic concepts, and thematic statements before class ended.  I also created an anchor chart (see below and disclaimer–I am NOT great at crafting these, but I try) and provided students copies of those notes to paste or tape into their notebooks.

This activity took all period and gave us a terrific jumping off point for the work we did on Days 2 and 3–check out the next blog post to learn more!  How do you like to introduce theme to middle or high school readers?