Got to Dash

story by Simon Cooke , illustrated by Anna Bron

Learning Intention:

I am learning how to recognise and explain my viewpoint on the theme of a text so that I can discuss and reflect upon the viewpoints of others.

Success Criteria:

  • I can define the term thematic statement.
  • I can consider the topics, characters, events and morals in a story to develop my own thematic statement.
  • I can interrogate thematic statements developed by my peers.

Essential Knowledge:

More information about how the theme of a text differs from the topic can be found in the English Textual Concepts video Theme.

More information about how the concept of theme should be addressed in Stage 3 (including constructing thematic statements) can be found on the English Teachers Association’s page on Theme.

Guiding Question:

How can themes inform us about human experiences?

As a class, read the story. After reading, construct a quick class summary of the main character, the events of the story and the actions that he takes. This could be done in the form of a Somebody, Wanted, But, So, Then protocol, or through using a WWWWWH chart (interactive resource produced by the DoE’s Digital Learning Selector).

  • Who? Jackson a young boy with a broken leg
  • What? Learns morse code from his grandfather
  • When? His cast comes off.
  • Where? Is visiting a park and sees a dog acting strangely.
  • Why? The dog is trying to get help for an unconscious old man.
  • How? He is using morse code to try to get a human’s attention.

Explain that students are going to provide their own interpretation of the theme of the story.

As theme is a difficult concept, with many misconceptions, start by explaining to students what a theme is not. First of all, a theme is not a topic – therefore the theme of the text is not morse code. Secondly, a theme is not an idea – nor is the theme of the text ideas about pets, bravery or intelligence.

A theme is statement about life. You may wish to explain that a theme in its most simple form is the message, moral or lesson of a text. It should always be phrased as a sentence. When working out the theme of the text, a reader needs to consider the plot, setting, character, language and moral events.

Explain that students will be coming up with their own interpretation of what the thematic statement of this text is. A thematic statement is a sentence (or two sentences) that explains the theme of the text, in a person’s opinion.

Ask students to review the class summary of the story. Ask students to construct a thematic statement based on this summary.

Additional scaffolding can be provided through the following steps:

  1. Using the class summary as a starting point, expand on the ideas of character, events and morals. Use each as a subheading and provide additional details from the text after close rereading. Some suggested answers are:
  • Jackson at the start of the story is frustrated by his broken leg.
  • Really enjoys physical activity.
  • Initially didn’t want to learn morse code.
  • Spent a couple of weeks to get the hang of it.
  • The dog isn’t very cute – it is described as a mongrel with a big head and short stumpy tail
  • After his cast came off, Jackson took a break from skating because his leg hurt.
  • He noticed a dog behaving strangely by dropping rocks and sticks in a particular pattern.
  •  Jackson worked out that the dog was spelling out SOS in morse code
  • When you are bored, you should try to learn a new skill.
  • Observe what is happening around you and if you see something strange seek help

Students then construct a thematic position based on key points in the longer summary.

  1. Provide students with a list of key terms that they should use in their thematic position. These could be extracted from the longer summary outlined in the activity above. Some suggested words could include skill, observe curiosity, assistance.

Possible thematic positions for this story could include:

  • You should be curious and always try to learn new skills as you never know when they might be useful.
  • It is important to be observant because you might suddenly need to help somebody.
  • Animals are remarkable creatures, and we should show respect towards their skills.

After students have determined their own thematic position, ask them to share their idea with a peer. After hearing a peer’s thematic position, they should ask which events in the story most influenced their thinking and the most important lesson they took from the story. Once students have heard a range of thematic positions, ask them to modify their own based on ideas from other students’ viewpoints.