Tag Archives: #shauntan

Teaching Theme: The Red Tree

15 Dec
click the image to read more about this book

click the image to read more about this book

My very first department chair regularly read favorite books to his classes. He wasn’t a snob, either. He reveled in good writing, regardless of genre or target audience.

He was the first person to tell me about Harry Potter. He said something like, “The kids in England are reading this. It’s wonderful, and I think it’s going to be big over here.” Yes, he was a prescient guy. He was also brave. He often read picture books to seniors in high school…and they loved it. One of his favorite children’s books is now one of mine: The Red Tree by Shaun Tan. I use it to teach theme.

I begin my introductory lesson on theme by asking students to formulate a working definition (SEE THIS HANDOUT). As a class, they always come up with a decent one. I might have to do a bit of prodding, but this stuff is usually “in there.”

After collecting definitions, we refine our conception of theme. Depending on what was compiled in class (I usually use a common Google Doc to have students shape collective definitions), I emphasize certain aspects. My key points are always:

  • Multiple themes exist in any piece of art. Art is nuanced, so any painting, story, photograph, play, sculpture, or song will have multiple lessons within.
  • The author really means it. I tell my students, “I don’t think authors intend every message English teachers squeeze out of the work, but I’ve been around enough writers and written enough on my own to understand that writers are very intentional, even neurotic…so critical readers honor the craftsmanship of artists.” Or, I might just say, “They mean most of this stuff. Trust me.”
  • A theme is never one word. There’s a difference between topics and themes. Family, love, and betrayal are all topics. The specific comment the author wants to make about families is the theme.

No surprise. The students breeze through the definition process but STRUGGLE to write coherent, original theme statements that go beyond the obvious and avoid simple summary. In other words, they can define concepts but need help applying them. No matter… I keep my job because they need such help.

Continue reading

carlabramowitz

Explore with Curiosity. Create with Love

@TeacherToolkit

Most Influential Blog on Education in the UK

Robin Neal

a teacher energized by innovation and collaboration

Popsicles for Dinner

The adventures of Liza and Felix

couponbomb

A year long quest of doing stuff...

Lehrer Werkstatt

Reflections on Living and Teaching in Germany

Student Observation

every day observations from a student's perspective

Empathic Teacher

The Mindful High School Classroom

Expat Educator

Leadership and Educational Practice from Around the World

Ideas Out There

THINK. LEARN. DO. REPEAT...

So, will this be graded?

Stories from a middle school English teacher turned high school English teacher.

History Tech

History, technology, and probably some other stuff

I'm Teaching English

And trying to get better each day. Thanks for your comments!

thefreshmanexperience

Life's lessons learned from students at school...

TED Blog

The TED Blog shares interesting news about TED, TED Talks video, the TED Prize and more.

The WordPress.com Blog

The latest news on WordPress.com and the WordPress community.

analyfe

the subjective perspective of an analytical optimist

Classroom as Microcosm

Siobhan Curious Says: Teachers are People Too