Authentic Lessons for 21st Century Learning

A Visual Exploration of Theme

Picture the Theme

K20 Center, Jane Baber, Melissa Rule Wicker | Published: May 25th, 2022 by K20 Center

  • Grade Level Grade Level 8th
  • Subject Subject English/Language Arts
  • Course Course
  • Time Frame Time Frame 2-4 class period(s)
  • Duration More 120 minutes


In this lesson, students will critically examine how literary elements contribute to the theme of a text. Students will explore universal theme sets by examining pictures and engaging in the Four Corners strategy. Students will then identify a universal theme within a text by using the Why-Lighting strategy to analyze its setting, imagery, diction, and characterization. Finally, students will create a multi-genre representation of text's theme before engaging in a Gallery Walk to view other students' creations. This lesson can be used as a companion to the lesson "Growing Themes."

Essential Question(s)

How do literary elements contribute to the theme of a text?



Students will analyze a variety of pictures to identify theme.


Students will collaboratively reflect on theme using the Four Corners strategy.


Students will use Why-Lighting and a graphic organizer to annotate and document literary elements within a text.


Students will apply their knowledge of literary elements and theme by creating a multi-genre visual project.


Students will engage in the Gallery Walk/Carousel strategy to reflect on various visual representations of theme.


  • Theme Flower handout (attached)

  • Theme Room Labels (attached)

  • The Outsiders Passages (attached)

  • Theme Graphic Organizer (attached)

  • Gallery Walk Graphic Organizer (attached)

  • Highlighters: pink, yellow, blue, green

  • Writing utensils

  • Art materials including but not limited to plain copy paper in various sizes, magazines, newspapers, markers, colored pencils, scissors, and glue.


  1. Open or download the "Theme Pictures" Google Slideshow and the "Theme Flower" document from the attachments. Each student needs a copy of the "Theme Flower."

  2. Explain to students that they will be shown six individual pictures and that they will be identifying a universal theme set for each one of the pictures. The center of the "Theme Flower" has four universal theme sets to choose from: courage/fear, acceptance/isolation, love/hate, and loyalty/betrayal.

  3. Show the first picture. Give students 15-30 seconds to formulate an opinion as to which universal theme set is depicted and to write that universal theme set on the petal labeled "Picture 1."

  4. Repeat this process for the other five pictures, making sure that students write the universal themes in the corresponding petals.


Students will compare their universal theme set identifications with their classmates' using the Four Corners strategy.

  1. Print the "Theme Room Labels" from the attachments.

  2. Affix one theme set to each side of the room.

  3. Explain to students that you will be showing each of the pictures from the previous activity again. When each picture is shown, they will move to the side of the room labeled with the same theme set as the one they have written on their "Theme Flower" paper.

  4. Show the first picture and have students move to the correct location in the room.

  5. Once students have moved, they should discuss within their group which details in the picture helped them decide on the theme set.

  6. Finally, each group should share these details with the class.

  7. Repeat this process for the other five pictures.


Provide each student with a copy of the "Theme Graphic Organizer" from the attachments and a copy of a passage from a familiar text. Passages from The Outsiders have been provided in the attachments and the full text is available here, but passages from other texts can be used instead if desired.

Explain to students that they will be looking for examples of setting, imagery, diction, and characterization within the passage, which help establish a theme of the text.

Using the Why-Lighting strategy, have students annotate the text for the four literary elements.

Students read through the text and highlight descriptive examples of each of the literary elements.

  • Pink: Setting

  • Yellow: Imagery

  • Blue: Diction

  • Green: Characterization

After students have finished annotating the passage, they should review each of their highlighted elements, identify which theme is demonstrated, and write each example within the appropriate theme set compartment on the "Theme Graphic Organizer."

Finally, have students identify the theme set compartment with the most entries and examine the entries to determine the overall theme. For example, if the "Courage/Fear" compartment had the most entries, students would read the entries to determine if they were more reflective of a theme of "Courage" or a theme of "Fear."


Provide students with access to various art materials, including but not limited to plain copy paper in various sizes, magazines, newspapers, markers, colored pencils, scissors, and glue.

Explain to students that they will be constructing a multi-genre visual project that illustrates the theme of their passage and incorporates the literary examples from their graphic organizer. The visuals can be literal depictions or symbols of the literary elements. Students should focus on incorporating a variety of pictures and visual elements rather than written text.

A sample rubric can be found here.


Display students' multi-genre visual projects around the room prior to the beginning of the class.

Provide each student with a copy of the "Gallery Walk Graphic Organizer" from the attachments.

Explain to students that they will be looking at other students' projects and providing feedback on each.

Using the Gallery Walk/Carousel and 2 Stars & a Swish strategies, students will complete their "Gallery Walk Graphic Organizer."

  1. Have students move to their starting point by selecting another student's work.

  2. Allow students to review the work for 2-3 minutes.

  3. On their graphic organizer, students should identify two literary elements (setting, imagery, diction, and characterization) that they find in the visual and make one connection to the visual.