5th Grade - Understanding Themes

Stories and Literature
Understanding themes
Understand that theme refers to the meaning or moral of a selection and recognize themes (whether implied or stated directly) in sample works.
Be able to understand and state the author’s overall message from a text.

Sample Problems


What is the underlying message of a story called? (theme)


True or False: There is only one way to state a theme. (false)


True or False: A theme is always stated directly in a text. (false)


True or False: The title is a good place to look for clues about theme. (true)


True or False: A fable’s moral is its theme. (true)

Learning Tips



Theme– a central, underlying message about life and human behavior that is considered universally true, regardless of time period or location. The theme may be stated in the story or you may have to figure it out from clues and state it in your own words.


How to Figure Out Theme

Look for clues in the following places:

  • The title

  • What the characters say

  • How the characters act

  • How characters react

  • The lessons characters learn

  • Other story elements (such as setting)


Common Themes in Literature

Themes can be stated in many different ways. A theme should generally be expressed as a complete sentence. Here are some examples of common themes:

  • A person grows by facing obstacles

  • What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger

  • Blood is thicker than water

  • Don't judge a book by its cover

  • We determine our own future, not fate

  • With freedom comes responsibility

  • Be true to yourself

  • Love is stronger than hate

  • Good triumphs over evil

  • Believe in yourself

  • Accept Others’ Differences

  • Honesty is the Best Policy

  • Always be Kind to Others

  • Be Happy With What you Have


Multiple Themes

One story can have several themes or underlying messages, but usually one is repeated more often or emphasized more in the story.

Challenge yourself to come up with five different themes for one of your favorite books.


Themes Outside of Books

The message of a fiction book is much like the message of a beautiful painting. It sometimes is stated, but more often than not is something you have to reflect on. Think about the meaning of things other than books, maybe movies, paintings, or plays. Do you think all art forms have meaning or themes?

Extra Help Problems


True of False: A theme is a statement of universal truth. (true)


True or False: You can state the theme in your own words. (true)


True or False: The theme for The Hare and The Tortoise is “slow but steady wins the race”. (true)


True or False: Good triumphs over evil is a common theme. (true)


True or False: Everyone has to come up with exactly the same theme. (false)


True or False: A moral is the same as a theme. (true)


True or False: A theme cannot be stated in the story. (false)


True or False: Blood is thicker than water means the same thing as Family is the most important thing. (true)


What is a theme for the Boy Who Cried Wolf? (Too many false alarms will make people doubt you in a real emergency)


What is a theme for The Three Little Pigs? (Make a smart choice to keep yourself safe)


What is a theme for Sleeping Beauty? (Love conquers all)


Is “Choosing love over reason can be dangerous to your health” a valid theme? (yes)


True or False: Keeping track of any ideas, objects, or lessons that seem to appear again and again will help you figure out theme. (true)


Is “Choosing love over reason can be dangerous to your health” a valid theme? (yes)


Is “Glittering” a valid theme? (no)


What does “All that glitters is not gold” mean? (Things are not always what they appear)


True or False: A theme should generally be expressed as a complete sentence. (true)


Is “Be true to yourself” a valid theme? (yes)


Is “Honesty is the best policy” a valid theme? (yes)


Is “Change can be good” a valid theme? (yes)


Can you find a theme in what characters say? (yes)


Can you find a theme in the way characters react? (yes)


True or False: A theme park is an amusement park organized around a theme. (true)


Is the theme the same thing as the topic? (no)


Do you have to state the theme the same way as your friend? (no)


Related Games


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