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Games for Teaching Theme in Upper Elementary

Help students break the reading ‘code’ with these games for teaching themes in upper elementary.

Games for teaching theme in upper elementary Pinterest images

We all know that reading is important, but as a parent, we often don’t consider why reading is so valuable.

We want our kids to be able to read, and we are thrilled when they learn their ABCs or read a sign on the side of the road, but just because a student can read the words doesn’t necessarily mean that they understand what they’re reading. 

But teachers know the secret.

No matter what kind of reading a student is doing (fiction, nonfiction, graphic novels, etc.), they are really trying to break a code, and behind that code is a whole vault full of information and insights about life.

As teachers, we do our best to teach our students how to break the code, how to look for clues, and ask questions about what they read. This often looks like identifying certain vocabulary, watching for the use of important conjunctions, or underlining key phrases. 

If students can figure out how all those clues work together, they will unlock the meaning of the text they are reading.

Of all the important treasures hidden within the pages of a book or the words of a passage is the theme. Identifying the theme is to share an insight into the world. In order to identify themes, students need to be able to understand people and choices and cause/effect situations. 

Theme is also often hard to teach in a classroom because, many times, it requires the reading of a whole book or watching an entire movie before the theme is revealed. That is why I love using games for teaching themes in upper elementary because students can practice identifying themes in short examples and smaller blocks of time.

Two of my favorite games for teaching themes are U-KNOW and the Theme Game Show, but before we ever start these games, I take a little time to put some helpful posters on the wall!

Theme Posters for Upper Elementary

When we talk about decoding a message, we often look for patterns, and just like with most things, there are some typical patterns to the types of themes used in fictional texts.

Before we start using our games for teaching themes in upper elementary, we go over some of the most popular themes using the Free Theme Posters (you can download them below). These posters go over some of the most common themes found in fictional texts in upper elementary. Once we’ve gone through each one and read some picture books that focus on each, they get to live in a special place on our classroom wall (or a designated bulletin board).

Once the posters are on the wall, we incorporate theme-focused games into some of our stations and/or centers, and we even do some full-class game show practice.

2 of My Favorite Games for Teaching Themes in Upper Elementary

When it comes to theme, my two favorite classroom games are U-KNOW and Game Shows, but I like to use them for different purposes.

Since much of the teaching and instructing on theme will use picture books or longer passages, I purposefully look for games that provide quick examples. Both of the games I listed meet this requirement, but when looking for games for teaching themes in upper elementary, I’m also wanting a mixture of hands-on and digital games. I also try to find games that can work in small groups, as well as some that I can use with the whole class.

Games for teaching theme in upper elementary Facebook images

Theme U-KNOW

U-KNOW is a card game that my students like to play in small group centers. I personally like to use the included accountability sheets to make sure that every student is considering every question, but sometimes students just play for fun too. 

I also love using U-KNOW cards for playing other types of card games; one fun game is ‘Markers’, which you can read about more in this blog post, or you can play a game of War with U-KNOW. Find out how in this blog post.

Note: U-KNOW cards, like a lot of classroom games, can wear down over time, but if you are going to use them for all of these other games and mix and match them with other U-KNOW decks for different types of review, then you may find this post on making games last longer really helpful.

The Theme Game Show

Although the Theme Game Show could be used in small groups or even as an individual review activity, I love using it as a whole class game. We’ve talked a lot in this blog post on ways to make the Game Show experience even more fun for students, and adding in elements like these sound effects or even some special lighting or funny-sounding buzzers can really bring a Game Show activity to life. All the while giving students a chance to consider different themes as they are found in the passages of the game.

When you’re looking for games for practicing themes in upper elementary, starting with U-KNOW and the Theme Game Show will give you a few options for quick practice with students. Then you can continue to work on decoding themes in longer texts during your designated reading times. 

As you continue to work with students on unlocking the reading ‘vault’ and figuring out what kinds of fun messages are hiding in their reading, we hope that these theme-focused games will give your students exactly the right kind of practice they need to crack the code.

Want more on theme? Check out the blog post below:

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