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 examine the themes in The Outsiders and the strong lessons they send to readers.

Themes, Motifs and Imagery to Look For & Discuss

Rich vs. Poor

A prevalent theme throughout literature is contrasts and comparisons between the rich and the poor. This theme focuses on the socio-economic differences between groups of people. Throughout the novel, these differences cause the major conflict between the gangs. The Greasers are poor, with their long hair slicked back, and the Socs, or Socialites, come from the west side of town known for its wealth. Although they may believe they are different, they all must face some similar challenges in life.

Loyalty and Honor

No matter what side a character is on, their group has a code. The Greasers uphold what they believe is right and fair. This can be seen when Johnny rescues the children, or when Dallas takes the heat for a crime his friend committed.


Throughout the novel, girls get a bad rap. Although no one is fighting directly over them, they seem to be a center of controversy and trouble. When lines are blurred, and a Soc girls starts talking to a Greaser, or when Sandy becomes pregnant with another man’s child, the message is clear: Hinton women cause conflict.

Reference to Literature

Throughout the novel the author uses allusions to literature such as Gone With the Wind and Great Expectations. For Ponyboy Curtis, characters create bonds with his friends and with the world he hopes to make sense of.

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 Outsiders. Illustrate instances of each theme and write a short description below each cell.

  1. Click "Start Assignment".
  2. Identify the theme(s) from The Outsiders 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.
  5. Click "Save & Exit" when done.

Lesson Plan Reference

Common Core Standards
  • [ELA-Literacy/RL/7/2] Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text; provide an objective summary of the text
  • [ELA-Literacy/L/7/5] Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings
  • [ELA-Literacy/RI/7/5] Analyze the structure an author uses to organize a text, including how the major sections contribute to the whole and to the development of the ideas.


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

Themes, Symbols, and Motifs
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 say why examples are significant.
Most examples fit the identified themes, symbols, and motifs. Descriptions say why examples are significant.
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.

How To Differentiate Lessons on Themes, Symbols, and Motifs


Discuss the Pertinent Vocabulary

Students are often confused by theme, symbols, and motifs, so use real life examples to illuminate these ideas. They definitely bear repeating as students mature and come into their own as readers.


Scaffold as Necessary

Some students will be able to do this on their own, and some won't have any idea where to start. Assist students in finding the symbols to start with by offering them multiple choice answers. Discuss the deeper meanings of the symbols and themes for those who need it.


Use a Storyboard to Differentiate

A storyboard is a natural differentiator because students will automatically create it to their level. The drawings and explanations they create might be different from the person next to them, and you still may need to offer help and suggestions for struggling learners.

Frequently Asked Questions about Themes, Symbols and Motifs for The Outsiders

How are symbols and theme related in a story?

A symbol is an object that represents something beyond itself. The theme of a story is the lesson about life that the story teaches. A symbol often illuminates the theme in the story because it leads the reader to understand the lesson of the story.

Why is it difficult for students to understand themes?

Elements like theme in a story are more abstract, and difficult for some students to understand easily. Also, since there can be more than one theme in a story, this can be difficult for students to grasp. Understanding themes is one of the things that makes stories universal, and it is important to assist them with these ideas.

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