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Activity Overview

Novels often have a variety of themes, symbols, and motifs that students can identify and analyze. Theme in literature refers to the main idea or underlying meaning the author is exploring throughout a novel, short story, or other literary work. Symbolism in a story is when an object or situation is more than it appears on the surface. The author is using it to represent something deeper and more meaningful. For example, an object that is the color red might have a deeper meaning of passion, or love, or devotion attached to it. Motifs are a technique employed by the author whereby they repeat a certain element more than once throughout the course of the story. This element has symbolic significance and is meant to draw the reader's attention and illuminate a deeper meaning to the story as it is repeated.

All of these literary elements can be conveyed through characters, setting, dialogue, plot, or a combination. Students can explore themes, symbols, and motifs by identifying these elements themselves or in an “envelope activity”, where they are given one or more to track throughout their reading. After identifying one or more themes, symbols, or motifs, students will create a spider map where they label, describe, and illustrate what they found!

To scaffold or tailor this activity, teachers may choose to provide students with a list of themes, symbols, and motifs, or they can come together as a class to determine what students think they are! Teachers may also ask students to focus solely on one element, either themes, symbols, or motifs, and complete a storyboard with anywhere between 3 and 10 cells. Be sure to update the student instructions as necessary!

Template and Class Instructions

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

Due Date:

Objective: Create a storyboard that identifies recurring themes, symbols, or motifs found in the story. Illustrate each and write a short description below each cell.

Student Instructions:

  1. Click "Start Assignment".
  2. Identify the themes, symbols, or motifs from the story that you wish to include and type them in the title box at the top.
  3. Create an image for examples that represent each symbol using appropriate scenes, characters and items.
  4. Write a description of each of the examples in the black text box.

Lesson Plan Reference

Grade Level --- N/A ---

Difficulty Level 3 (Developing to Mastery)

Type of Assignment Individual

Type of Activity: Themes, Symbols & Motifs

Common Core Standards
  • [ELA-Literacy/RL/6/2] Determine a theme or central idea of a text and how it is conveyed through particular details; provide a summary of the text distinct from personal opinions or judgments
  • [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/W/6/6] Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing as well as to interact and collaborate with others; demonstrate sufficient command of keyboarding skills to type a minimum of three pages in a single sitting.
  • [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 symbolism in the story. Illustrate instances of each and write a short description that explains the example's significance.
Proficient Emerging Beginning
Identify Symbol(s)
All symbols are correctly identified as objects that represent something else at a higher level in the story.
Most symbols are correctly identified, but some objects are missing or are incorrectly identified as significant symbols.
No symbols are correctly identified.
All examples support the identified symbols. Descriptions clearly say why examples are significant.
Most examples fit the identified symbols. Descriptions say why examples are significant.
Most examples do not fit the identified symbols. Descriptions are unclear.
Storyboard cells clearly show connection with the symbols and help with understanding.
Most storyboard cells help to show the symbols but some storyboard cells are difficult to understand.
Storyboard cells do not help in understanding the symbols.

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