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Activity Overview

In this activity, students will identify a theme and support the theme with evidence from the text. One theme is "death" and another is "friendship".

Themes to Look For and Discuss


Byron, who is usually a cruel bully, becomes emotional after throwing a cookie at a mourning dove and killing it. Later in the novel, Kenny nearly drowns and sees a “Wool Pooh”, which symbolizes death. Lastly, the church bombing killed four innocent little girls who were attending Sunday school.


Byron and Buphead are great friends, but Buphead is a negative influence on Byron, and they cut school often. Kenny almost loses Rufus as his best friend, but realizes that he needs to stick by his friend, even if it means he gets made fun of. The last example of friendship is between Byron and Kenny. They don’t get along often, but in the end, Byron is the one who consoles Kenny.

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 depicting themes in The Watsons Go to Birmingham.

  1. Use the template provided by your teacher.
  2. Identify a theme from the novel.
  3. Describe three examples of the theme.
  4. Illustrate each scene with appropriate characters, scenes, and items.

Lesson Plan Reference

Switch to: Common CoreArizonaCaliforniaColoradoFloridaGeorgiaIowaKansasMarylandMassachusettsNebraskaNew JerseyNew YorkNorth CarolinaOhioOklahomaPennsylvaniaTexasUtah


(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 Analyze the Themes and Symbols Present in “The Watsons Go to Birmingham”


Introduce and Identify Themes

Begin by introducing the concept of themes to the students. Tell them how themes are the central ideas behind any story and are responsible for giving a purpose to the story. Ask the students to identify the common or key themes present in the story such as family, friendship, hardship, discrimination, and personal growth are some common themes that students can examine.


Talk About Symbolism

Discuss the idea of symbolism with the students can how subtle symbolism is used in the stories to make them more interesting for readers to analyze. Give some simple examples to students and talk about how symbolism is used practically in writing and storytelling.


Analyze Interaction With Characters

Examine the interactions and connections that the novel's characters have with the themes present in the story. In what ways do their viewpoints and backgrounds aid in the examination of these themes? Students can also analyze the significance of the symbolism of the characters and how it can represent their thoughts, feelings, and reactions.


Link Symbols and Themes

Examine the symbols' connections to the novel's main topics. Symbols frequently support or improve the way these concepts are explored. Discuss how symbols can also help in the development of themes with the help of simple examples. Encourage the students to use critical analysis and evidence to support their points.


Reflect and Summarize

Ask the students to summarize all the points of the discussion and in the end give their own argument and opinion regarding the topic. Students can also add any other elements they would like to explore and share any new insights with the class to make the discussion more interesting.

Frequently Asked Questions About Themes Present in “The Watsons Go To Birmingham”

What is the role of family in the narrative?

One of the key ideas in the book is that of family. The relationships, affection, and support of the Watson family are examined throughout the story. The trip to Birmingham acts as a spur for their relationship to grow and brings about many events that will significantly impact their relationship with each other.

How does the narrative depict racial prejudice and discrimination?

The church bombing and the Woolworth's lunch counter incident are two examples that the novel uses to illustrate the terrible reality of racial hatred. The injustice African Americans endured throughout the Civil Rights period is brought to light.

What kinds of personal development and growth do the characters go through?

Significant personal growth is experienced by characters such as Kenny, Byron, and even Momma. Over the course of the, they pick up insightful knowledge about the world, their relationships, and themselves.

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