Games and centers to help you teach theme to your upper elementary students

Games and Centers for Teaching Theme

Games and centers to help you teach theme to your upper elementary students

Teaching theme is hard.  Finding games and centers that help students practice how to determine the theme of a story is even harder.

Most theme practice involves simply reading a passage and answering a multiple choice question about what the theme is.  Not only can this be boring and monotonous for 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade students, but it is extremely unhelpful for struggling students that are unsure of how to find the theme of a passage.

Below, find 3 center/game ideas to help students practice theme in a fun and engaging way.  Use these ideas to create your own theme centers for your classroom, or buy the extremely low prep version here.  (Only 1 center requires prep - a little cutting.)

Theme Game/Center #1 – Theme Mazes

Mazes are a fun way to practice this skill, and they can be used in a variety of ways depending on what aspect of theme your students need practice with.

The theme mazes I have created in my Finding the Theme Games and Centers resource address two different skills.

The first 2 mazes help students practice distinguishing between a theme and a main idea.  In order to complete the maze, students must shade in some possible theme statements.  Students are required to think about the difference between theme and main idea in order to complete this activity successfully.

In the last 3 mazes of the resource, students are given a theme.  In order to complete the mazes, students have to shade in the main ideas that could go along with the provided theme.  Students must think about what stories and plots could have a certain theme.

These mazes are good way for upper elementary students to practice skills associated with theme without students having to read a lot of text.

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Theme Game/Center #2 – Theme Sort

Having students sort short stories by theme is an incredibly beneficial activity for students that are struggling to determine the theme on their own.

Often, this type of game is played like a matching game, where students read a short paragraph and then have to match up the correct theme to the paragraph.  This is easier to create, but not as helpful for struggling students.

Instead, create a game where only 3 - 4 themes are included.  For each theme, include several short stories that have that theme.  Then, have students sort the stories based on theme.

Having students think about how completely different stories can have the same theme just based on the plot and lessons learned will really help students better understand what a theme is.

Choosing themes that have similar topics, yet are different, will require students to think a little more critically about the differences between themes.  For example, the sorting game that comes in my Finding the Themes Games and Centers Resource requires students to think about the themes, "Choose your friends wisely" and, "You can find friendship in unexpected places."  Having two similar themes requires students to look more closely at the short stories than they would otherwise.

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Theme Game/Center #3 – Writing With a Theme

One of the best ways to have students apply what they know about theme is to have them write stories with a theme!  This is a rigorous activity for upper elementary students that requires little prep on the teacher's end - a win/win!

However, this can be an overwhelming task for students, especially if they don't enjoy writing.  Some students will benefit from a little scaffolding instead of being given free rein.  Provide students with the theme of their story, as well as ideas for characters and settings if they are having trouble coming up with their own.  Then, students just have to focus on how to get the theme across.


While the writing center mentioned above does not require much prep to create, the other two centers can be time consuming to make.  However, they are engaging activities that will help students better understand how to find the theme of a story.  Save time by buying the already made version of these centers here.

Each of the centers in this resource comes with either a student recording sheet or a grading rubric so that you hold students accountable for their work, and you can also easily assign a grade to each center.

You might like some of these other ideas and activities for teaching theme. 

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