Activity Overview

Themes, symbols, and motifs come alive when you use a storyboard. In this activity, students will identify themes from the novel, and support their choices with details from the text. There are several themes present, and students should discern how these themes are developed.

Examples of Themes found in Chains


Isabel remembers the love of her parents despite experiencing the tragedies of the death of her Momma and sale of her Poppa. She feels their connection throughout the novel, drawing on their love and family history to give her strength and courage to face her oppression. She is sister Ruth's caretaker and after the Locktons cruelly sell little Ruth, it gives Isabel the determination to escape in order to find her.


Isabel is not shown much kindness throughout the book but she does develop a friendship with Curzon who is loyal to her and helps her after her brutal punishment. She also is given advice and kind words from Grandfather by the Tea Water Pump. Lady Seymour's kindness is an unexpected sympathy that surprises Isabel. All of these friendships help Isabel throughout the novel gain the strength she needs to carry on.


The dehumanization of slavery is a central theme of the novel and so is Isabel's quest to reclaim her identity and humanity. The Lockton's try to erase her identity by forcing the name Sal and brutally ignoring her humanity. When she is branded, Madam Lockton uses "I" for "insolence" but Isabel discovers her scar can symbolize her real name, her inner strength, and her ability to survive, just as her father's African mark symbolized positive virtues in his culture.


The hypocrisy of the Patriots seeking independence from Great Britain when there were half a million people enslaved in the colonies is glaring. Throughout the novel, it is not clear who the "good guys" are. Isabel is told by Curzon that helping the Patriots could secure her own liberty but is disillusioned when she goes to Colonel Regan for help and is turned away. Lady Seymour seems to sympathize with Isabel and Ruth's plight but does not intervene too much.


Isabel's courage is evident throughout the book as she has to face the threat of violence and danger daily. Although she's small, Isabel defiantly faces up to her oppressors, always choosing what is right for herself and others over her own safety. Examples: when she covertly passes notes for the Patriots, sneaks food to Curzon in jail, stands up to Madam Lockton after Ruth is sold, steals the Pass and escapes, breaks Curzon out of jail, and rows across the Hudson to freedom!

Other themes present:
  • Slavery
  • Warfare
  • Memory and the Past
  • Rules and Order
  • Suffering

Template and Class Instructions

(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Use This Assignment With My Students", update the instructions on the Edit Tab of the assignment.)

Due Date:

Objective: Create a storyboard that identifies recurring themes in Chains. Illustrate instances of each theme and write a short description below each cell.

Student Instructions:

  1. Click "Start Assignment".
  2. Identify the themes from Chains you wish to include and write them in the title.
  3. Create an image for an example that represents this theme using appropriate scenes, characters, and items.
  4. Write a short description of each of the examples.

Lesson Plan Reference

Grade Level 6-8

Difficulty Level 3 (Developing to Mastery)

Type of Assignment Individual or Partner

Type of Activity: Themes, Symbols & Motifs

Common Core Standards
  • [ELA-Literacy/RH/9-10/3] Analyze in detail a series of events described in a text; determine whether earlier events caused later ones or simply preceded them.
  • [ELA-Literacy/RL/8/2] Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text, including its relationship to the characters, setting, and plot; provide an objective summary of the text
  • [ELA-Literacy/RL/8/4] Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone, including analogies or allusions to other texts
  • [ELA-Literacy/RL/5/1] Quote accurately from a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text.


(You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)

Create a storyboard that identifies recurring themes in the story. Illustrate instances of each and write a short description that explains the example's significance.
Proficient Emerging Beginning
Identify Theme(s)
All themes are correctly identified as important recurring topics or messages in the story.
Some themes are correctly identified, but others are missing or do not make sense with the story.
No themes are correctly identified.
All examples support the identified themes. Descriptions clearly say why examples are significant.
Most examples fit the identified themes. Descriptions say why examples are significant.
Most examples do not fit the identified themes. Descriptions are unclear.
Storyboard cells clearly show connection with the themes and help with understanding.
Most storyboard cells help to show the themes, but some storyboard cells are difficult to understand.
Storyboard cells do not help in understanding the themes.

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