Discovering the Theme

LESSON #3: Discovering the Theme


OBJECTIVE: Students will demonstrate their basic understanding of theme by creating a “Three Panel Shakespeare” comic based around their decided theme of their play.





“Take Action”: What play did your group choose? What made you choose this play?


Lesson Plan:

Intro of “Theme”: Snowball activity:

  • Write “theme” on the white board before the start of class.
  • Have students take out a blank piece of paper and write for 30-60 sec everything they already know about theme. They should not write their name on this piece of paper.
  • Hopefully most of them have a basic understanding of what a theme is or have at least learned about themes before in English classes.
  • After they have written, invite students to crumple up their piece of paper and toss it to some area of the room (specifically chosen by the teacher).
  • Once each student has thrown their paper, have each student go and retrieve a paper ball that is not their own to read and share with the class.
  • Write the following definition on the board: the subject of a talk, a piece of writing, a person’s thoughts, or an exhibition; a topic. (dictionary definition)
  • Go around the room and have each student read what is written on the paper they picked up. Have that student identify if what is written agrees with the basic definition given on the board or does not.


By the end of the day students should have decided on a theme for their play.

  • Although there isn’t really a right answer to the question: What is the theme? (Most of Shakespeare’s works have multiple themes especially depending on who produces them) The theme should be well thought out and have meaning to the audience who views the piece. For example: Comedy of Errors is not just there to be funny, what is a more meaningful theme?
  • Another way to help them understand:
    • What’s the point of the story?
    • What is it about ________ that people enjoy? (They must enjoy it, theatres keep performing it!)


Theme Activity:  Half-life: this is a game that is meant to help students get to the bare bones of their play. What is the play really about? Once they can get the play to its simplest form, they should be able to discover the theme.

  • Have students break up into their groups for their retellings. Make sure they spread out around the room. (They don’t need a huge space to work but it might be a good idea to have the room clear of tables and chairs if possible and depending on the room.)
  • Students will improvise their entire play (on their feet, performing) in increasingly shorter times. No-one should be watching any other groups at this point because all the students should have their focus on their own story.
  • Using a timing device, give them a heads up how much time they have and don’t give them any time to prepare, this should all be thinking on their feet.
    • 2 min.
    • 1 min.
    • 30 sec.
    • 15 sec.
    • 7 sec.
    • 3 sec.


Once they have done each of the time lengths, have students sit down with their group and discuss the following:

  • What is really important in our story?
  • What do we think the theme is?


Three Panel Shakespeare:

  • Now that the students have seen a few different three-panel Shakespeare comics, they should have a good idea what they consist of.
  • Each group needs to create ONE three-panel comic of their play.
  • Although they only need to turn in one for their group, each member should help contribute to the comic by discussing what each of the panels should contain. (This should be based on what they just barely discussed.)
  • Underneath their comic they need to write their chosen theme that they also discussed in the previous activity.
  • This will need to be turned in by the end of the day and will be worth 20 pts.
  • This assignment will help the instructor see if each group has a basic understanding of their play and the purpose of the story.


Closure: Have each group turn in their comic. Bring all the students back together and ask: What was the purpose of today’s activities?

  • Both assignments should help students understand their play better AND help them to reach a theme. As they minimize their play as much as possible they should begin to see what the most important aspects of the play are. The most important aspects with help them with their adaptation and helps guide them to the theme they think stands out.


Homework! Remind the students that they don’t often get homework in the class so they need to do their best to make this happen. (This can be assigned a few days before based on the class dynamics so they have more time to complete it.) Each group should have at least five people in it. For homework, each student needs to take an act from their group’s play to read in the original text. (A great resource is No Fear Shakespeare:

  • A really quick and easy way to organize this is to have each group stand in a line and have each student figure out what position they are in line (1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc.) The first person in line will take Act I, the second will take Act II, and so on.
  • Suggest that students pull a quote from each of their scenes that they think might work in their performance. They don’t have to do this, but they are required to use at least five quotes from the original text and this would definitely help their group as they prepare their performance.
  • This reading is due in Lesson #5