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Activity Overview

The Fault in Our Stars is filled with symbolism, in part because the main characters themselves find it helpful to think about their lives metaphorically. The symbols in this book will come alive when you use a storyboard. In this activity, students will identify and explain symbols from the novel, supporting their choices with details from the text.

The Fault in Our Stars Symbols to Look For and Discuss


Gus's unlit cigarettes represent power and control over his life. He believes, "You put the killing thing right between your teeth, but you don't give it the power to do its killing." The cigarettes lend Gus the air of confidence and bravado that his character so craves. As he is sick and dying, he risks his life to drive himself to buy more cigarettes, a last desperate act to try to maintain some control over his life.

Funky Bones

The giant skeleton sculpture in the park is an obvious reminder of death. Although the children view it as a fun playground, they are overlooking the fact that death is all around them. In his commentary on this symbol, John Green writes, “What I love about the sculpture is that it makes the bones that we are always walking and playing on manifest, like in a world that so often denies the reality of death and the reality that we are surrounded by and outnumbered by the dead. Here, is a very playful way of acknowledging that and acknowledging that always, whenever we play, whenever we live, we are living in both literal and metaphorical ways on the memory and bones of the dead.” The two visits Gus and Hazel make to the Funky Bones park are significant for the character change they reveal. On the first visit, Gus pictures himself as one of the children swinging from the bones. On the second visit, he pictures himself as the bones themselves.

A Grenade

Hazel repeatedly describes herself as a grenade, a symbol of pain and suffering. Once a grenade is thrown, it is just a matter of time until it explodes. Hazel’s terminal diagnosis, therefore, is a guaranteed explosion of pain to all who love her. Part of the theme of The Fault in Our Stars is the search for life’s meaning. While Augustus wants to save lives and achieve something great, Hazel has no such aspirations. By identifying herself as a grenade, Hazel reveals her concept of her self-worth: she is dangerous and not worthy of love. As Hazel gives in and allows Gus to love her, she comes to a new understanding of love, suffering, and self-worth.

Hazel’s Swing Set

The swing set is a symbol of youth and childhood innocence and reminds both Hazel and Augustus of the carefree life they can never return to. The emotional significance of this symbol is complicated. Early in the novel, Hazel and Augustus give the swing set away since the childhood happiness it represents is too painful to contemplate. Later, Gus welcomes the nostalgia of the swing set, saying he wishes they still had it. Either way, the swing set reflects the difficulties of contemplating the past in a life with no future.


Amsterdam represents freedom for Hazel and Augustus. The city itself is known for its libertine pursuits. Visitors there have the freedom to experiment with drugs and prostitution, for example. This provides a symbolic setting for Hazel and Gus to exercise their freedom. Simply going on the trip is an act of defiance, as both Gus and Hazel disregard the concerns of their parents and/or doctors. In Amsterdam, the two are given the liberty to walk around by themselves like adults.They also become sexually involved during their time there. For a few days, they escape the doctors and tests and simply enjoy themselves.

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 recurring themes in The Fault in Our Stars. Illustrate instances of each theme and write a short description below each cell.

  1. Click "Start Assignment".
  2. Identify the theme(s), symbols(s), or motif(s) from The Fault in Our Stars you wish to include and replace the "THEME, SYMBOL, or MOTIF" text.
  3. Create an image for examples that represents this theme, symbol, or motif.
  4. Write a description of each of the examples in the black text box.
  5. Click "Save & Exit" when done.

Lesson Plan Reference

Common Core Standards
  • [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


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

Themes, Symbols, and Motifs Rubric for Middle School
Create a storyboard that identifies recurring themes, symbols, and/or motifs 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.
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.
Identify Motif(s)
All motifs are correctly identified as important recurring features or ideas in the story.
Some motifs are correctly identified, but others are missing or incorrect.
No motifs are correctly identified.
All examples support the identified themes, symbols, and motifs. Descriptions clearly explain how the examples connect to the broader themes, symbols, and motifs.
Most examples fit the identified themes, symbols, and motifs. Most descriptions attempt to explain how the examples connect to the broader themes, symbols, and motifs.
Most examples do not fit the identified themes, symbols, and motifs. Descriptions are unclear.
Storyboard cells clearly show connection with the themes, symbols, and motifs and help with understanding.
Most storyboard cells help to show the themes, symbols, and motifs, but some storyboard cells are difficult to understand.
Storyboard cells do not help in understanding the themes, symbols, and motifs.

More Storyboard That Activities

The Fault in Our Stars

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