The Missouri Reader Vol. 43, Issue 1 | Page 32


After students have read a text, ask them to choose one sentence, statement, or phrase that “stood out” to them while reading. They will ask you to clarify, but resist the urge. Part of the strategy is to get students to choose what spoke to them on their own. They will have different reasons for choosing their statements, which is expected.

Provide a sheet of copy paper for students to write with a marker the statement that stood out to them. It is important that students write the statement in bold, large letters.

Make sure to leave time for students to share their statements and provide justification for their choices. As each student finishes sharing aloud, he or she will tape the sheet of paper with the statement to a wall for the class to see.

Once all students have taped their sheets of paper to a wall, the collaboration begins. Ask students to read the statements and begin to organize them based on similarities/differences.

Each student must participate. How you accomplish this is up to you, but I have each student take a turn at his/her opinion about one or more of the statements. In the beginning, everyone stands up, and as the students share, they are able to sit back down one by one.

As students express ideas about how to organize these statements, a volunteer or two should be at the front of the room physically re-organizing the sheets of paper into groups or categories.

Once the class comes to a consensus on the grouping of statements, ask volunteers to begin naming the groups. The themes emerge and are literally “stuck” to the wall. Debriefing can be an important component of this strategy, so it is a good idea to make time for structured reflection appropriate for your class.

Themes that Stick: A Literacy Strategy for Social and Emotional Development


Maggie Beachner

Definitions of literacy have evolved with society and fluctuated in tandem with changes in education (Gaston, Martinez, & Martin, 2016). In recent years, research has shown that even social and emotional development impacts academic skills, including literacy. Literacy now encompasses ways of expression, including speaking, listening, viewing, and using technology (Gross, 2016), all of which affect a student’s social and emotional development. Literacy development is not only crucial in and of itself but as educators, we know that literacy strategies aid in students’ overall academic success.

Identifying themes in texts is a strategy used to bring relevance and meaning to content, which can motivate higher levels of student engagement. In her article published on, Dana Truby brings to light several points about theme that offer educators insight, such as the notion that to fully understand and use themes in texts assists students in exploring the content, and that theme can be a way of engaging and motivating students (Truby, 2018). As a teacher who has struggled to get students motivated to read and engage with a text, I have finally found a strategy through which students feel comfortable to engage as an individual as well as within the class whole. I have coined this literacy strategy that also aids in social and emotional development “Themes that Stick”. This theme-finding strategy begins with the individual student and ends as a whole-class effort.

As you read the instructions, you will see why I chose to call it “Themes that Stick”.This strategy could be conducted at the middle and high school levels with fiction and non-fiction texts. Students have the opportunity to form personal opinions about what stood out to them from the text and then, through speaking, listening, conversation, and collaboration, themes emerge. These actions all require a certain level of social and emotional skill, or at least practice in each. In my experience, the themes that emerge through this strategy have always been the themes I intend students to identify, and occasionally, a new theme emerges for which I had not prepared. Through this strategy, I have been reminded that I often learn just as much from my students as they learn from me.


Instructions / Notes for “Themes that Stick”