This lesson explains how to use Thinking Theme Charts to improve synthesis. 

Beyond Retelling Toward Higher Level Thinking and Big Ideas by Patricia Cunningham and Debra Renner Smith is full of ideas for teaching theme. This book addresses the themes on all the high-stakes tests and just plain good teaching that we do in our classrooms! Writing a kid friendly theme is important. Students internalize a theme when it is child centered instead of copied from a dictionary. The teacher records the students' thinking on a chart. They answer the question, "What does perseverance mean?" How would you describe it to your students? The students and I described perseverance as, "Perseverance means trying and trying and trying even when it is hard. It means never giving up."

As we know, setting purpose helps students know what to think about while they read or we read. Deb Renner Smith is teaching a lesson about perseverance to a group of students. She is setting purpose for this lesson by asking the big question, "Sometimes people do not give up, no matter how tough it gets. How do you think having perseverance is helpful or useful to the toys?" This question is also written on the chart paper to assist students in remembering their job today while reading. Deb reminds the students, "Your job today while reading is to figure out how you think having perseverance is helpful or useful to the toys. What is your job?" Deb knows if the students can answer, we are good to go... if the students cannot answer... it is time to repeat the purpose for the lesson!

Deb starts the lesson by reading the beginning of the book, The Little Engine That Could, aloud. The students are listening for actions or events in the story where the characters are showing perseverance. If a character shows perseverance, then the student puts a thumb up. If the student thinks that the character is not showing perseverance, then the student puts a thumb down. If the student is not sure, then the student shakes the thumb sideways.

Deb is reading a few pages of the book while the students are thinking about perseverance.
The children talk to each other about places in the book that the characters' actions show perseverance.
Here are the children indicating with thumbs up. "Yes, this is an event that shows perseverance. " The child with the mouth wide open is saying YES!
After supporting the students for a few pages, the students took over and did the work. While reading, all students were reading to find characters who were doing events that showed perseverance.
Some students read alone. Some students read with a partner. Some read in a small group. No child is left stranded with text that is too hard. Students are talking and processing the theme together.
First, the teacher leads a discussion between the students about the first column: "Events or actions by characters connected to the theme, including examples and nonexamples." Second, the teacher leads a discussion between the students about the second column: "Why did the character act that way?" Third, the teacher leads a discussion between the students about the third column: "What did the character get for acting that way?" Fourth, the teacher leads a discussion between the students about the fourth column: "Did this event show the theme of _____ or not? Yes, because...; No, because..." It is important for the teacher to encourage the students to explain why the event IS showing the theme, or why the event IS NOT showing the theme.

The teacher leads a discussion:

How come the character is acting this way? Is the clown showing perseverance when he keeps stopping this engine then the next engine then the next engine? Does little blue keep trying when he says, "I think I can" over and over?

Having the students engage in these discussions leads to synthesis and deep thinking instead of simple knowledge questions: Who are the characters, where did the story take place? Etc.

The discussion is more important than the chart. The teacher uses the chart to record the discussion for future reference. The students turn and talk about their answers to each other before they talk whole group. This way everyone is engaged in thinking and conversation.

For more ideas, read Deb and Pat's book, Beyond Retelling Toward Higher Level Thinking and Big Ideas by Patricia Cunningham and Debra Renner Smith.