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Activity Overview

Themes, symbols, and motifs are valuable aspects of any literary work, and they add richness to stories. Part of the Common Core ELA standards is to introduce and explain these complex concepts. However, abstract ideas are often difficult for students to analyze without assistance. Using a storyboard, students can visually demonstrate their understanding of these concepts, and master analysis of literary elements. For best practices, see our supplementary article with specific lesson plan steps on setting up your classroom and activities to teach themes, symbols, and motifs.

In the classroom, students can track the rich themes, symbols, and motifs in Holes and analyze the roles they play in the story.

Themes, Motifs, and Imagery to Look for and Discuss

The Benefits of Friendship

Ask students to depict each time a friendship benefits someone in the novel. Afterwards, have a discussion about how each friendship was good and mutually helped both parties.

The Destructive Power of Cruelty

Each time students see someone being mean or cruel they should make a note of this and depict it. After, have them look at what each of these events has in common. See if your students can articulate the theme on their own. Hopefully, they will conclude that mean or destructive people are not rewarded in the novel.

The Legacy of History

Ask students to track how Stanley’s history continues to come up in his daily life. Episodes like Stanley I surviving the desert after being robbed by Kate, or the discovery of the treasure chest. Tracking these events will show students the importance of personal histories. This will also aid in uncovering some mysteries when reading, and add to excitement as students start making predictions.

The Intervention of Fate

Fate often determines the course of events in Stanley’s life. Although Stanley believes he is cursed, it is fate that seems to bring the Zeroni and Yelnats families together. Have students track all the different ways they see fate in Stanley’s life.

Storyboard Example: Cruelty in Holes

The WardenThe Warden is cruel and mean. She demonstrates her cruel authority with rattlesnake venom nail polish. In the end, her cruelty is rewarded with her arrest.
Kissing KateKate starts as a nice school teacher, but when her love, Sam, is killed, she turns to revenge. She robs and steals, ultimately dying from the bite of a yellow spotted lizard.
Yellow Spotted LizardsYellow Spotted Lizards are deadly. They are a sign of nature’s cruelty, brought on by the drought. However, their weakness is onions.

Template and Class Instructions

(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Activity", update the instructions on the Edit Tab of the assignment.)

Student Instructions

Create a storyboard that identifies themes in Holes. Illustrate instances of each theme and write a short description below each cell.

  1. Click "Start Assignment".
  2. Identify the theme(s) from Holes you wish to include and replace the "Theme 1" text.
  3. Create an image for an example that represents this theme.
  4. Write a description of each of the examples.

Lesson Plan Reference


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

Create a storyboard that identifies themes in the story. Illustrate examples of each theme and write a short description below each cell.
Proficient Emerging Beginning
Identify Theme(s)
All themes are correctly identified and described.
Some themes are correctly identified.
No themes are correctly identified.
Examples of Theme(s)
All examples support the identified theme(s).
Most examples fit the identified theme(s).
Most examples do not fit the theme(s).
Illustrate Theme
Images clearly show connection with the theme(s).
Some images help to show the theme.
Images do not help in understanding the theme.

How To Teach Abstract Ideas to Young Students


Start With What Students Know

When teaching themes, motifs, and symbols to students, discuss themes they already know that are common in books and movies. Work from there to elaborate on symbols and how they are used in books to help provide abstract knowledge that can be difficult to grasp.


Find Examples Together

Assist students with symbol identification as you start. Sometimes they will want to say that ANY object is a symbol, but discuss with them how a symbol has meaning beyond itself, and moves the story forward. This is a difficult concept, so students will need a lot of scaffolding.


Use Illustrations to Explain Difficult Concepts

When concepts are more abstract, offer students a more concrete way to deal with them, such as a storyboard. By drawing the concepts and describing them, students will gain more understanding.

Frequently Asked Questions about Holes Themes, Symbols, and Motifs

What is a motif?

A motif is a symbol that is used again and again to make a point in the story. If you see a symbol that keeps coming up again, it is likely a motif and used to add depth to a story.

How does imagery help a student understand a story?

Imagery is a picture an author creates, often through a symbol. The object stands for something beyond itself and adds meaning to the story. Imagery helps students picture what they are reading as the story unfolds.

How can I best help students understand abstract ideas?

Abstract ideas can be difficult for students to grasp. They are generally very concrete learners. In order to combat this, do something very concrete with the abstract ideas to foster learning. A storyboard would be a great way to lay out symbols and motifs that are difficult to capture.

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