Show Your Work | Grade 9-12 Writing

Welcome back to Show Your Work, the weekly blog series where we challenge you to tackle an activity from one of our Courses.

Ever read a book you just couldn’t stop talking about? Well this activity is something like that. Your course sampler this week is all about Theme.

Knowing the theme of a story is the first step to discussing it. Whether you’re in class, meeting with a book club, or just talking TV with your friends, analyzing a piece of fiction by its theme will bring you closer to its deeper meaning. 

Check out the lesson excerpt below to get a handle on themes and theme statements. 

Good luck and have fun! 

Show Your Work: Grade 9-12

The first thing you need to know is the difference between the theme and the subject of a work. Let’s start with the subject. This is straight-forward and should be easy to figure out.

Subject – what the text is about. It’s the topic the author chooses to write about.

For example:

Jealousy, power, or war

Now, let’s compare that to theme. It’s more than just a topic. It’s also an opinion.

Theme – the point the author is making about the subject of the text. What the author wants us to understand or think about the subject. 

For example: 

Jealousy has the power to destroy. 
Too much power can corrupt a person. 
War can turn brother against brother. 

Did you notice that the subjects were just single words, but each of the theme examples is written in a complete sentence? Since a theme shows the reader the author’s opinion about the subject, it should be expressed in a complete sentence.

Now that you know what a theme is, how do you find it? Sometimes the theme is directly stated by the author or a character in the work. 

Other times the theme is indirectly stated and you’ll have to determine the theme by making inferences (educated guesses) about important story elements like conflict, characterization and the ending.


1.  Think of a Theme in a work of fiction you love and write it down. 

Use this theme from the Marvel movies as an example:

Doing good in your life is one of the most important goals for everyone.

Notice how it’s a complete thought expressed in a full sentence? That’s the Theme.

2.  Now use the equation below to write a theme statement:

Literal details of the plot + the reader’s educated guesses = Theme Statement

As an example, look at this theme statement:

In the Marvel movies, superheroes fighting villains, bad guys creating havoc, and the use of light and dark all help to show that doing good in your life is one of the most important goals for everyone, even mere mortals! 

Notice how the statement above added examples from the text to expand on and support the theme? Well that’s a Theme Statement! This is how you begin to analyze literature. 

3.  Write a theme statement about your favorite book in the comments below—but no spoilers!

Still unsure about theme? Don’t worry, this is advanced stuff! For some, it can be a confusing concept, but it doesn’t have to be. Once you understand what theme is, you’ll realize that you see it around you all the time. It’s what gives fiction its power. It’s how an author represents the real world through their characters, conflicts, and resolutions. It has the power to change hearts, minds, and sometimes entire cultures. 

Themes can be complex, but understanding them doesn’t need to be. Check out prep course instructor C.J. Reynolds defining theme and giving some more examples. 

Get more tips with C.J. Reynolds, earn Crowns with quizzes, and sharpen your literary analysis in this advanced writer’s Course! 

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