(Updated for 2015!) Reading for and Writing to a Theme

(Be sure to consult About the YARN Toolbox)

Previous “Teach” lesson plans that fit this mold:

  • Supernatural Occurrence? Image Courtesy of Markus Ram (flickr.com)

    “A Lesson on Crossing Cultures Through Fiction”

  • “A Lesson on Body Image”
  • “A Lesson on Inference”

New writing that would work with this lesson, grouped by theme (unless noted, selection is fiction), updated February 2015:

What you’ll need:

  • A computer with Internet that can be viewed on an overhead screen
  • Writing from YARN that you’ve chosen for this lesson ( Basic lesson: Choose one story, essay, or poem) (Advanced lesson: Choose two pieces to compare and contrast)

Preparation and Homework:

  • Choose the one or two stories you want to assign to the class, and review YARN in general.
  • Assign the YARN writing as homework, and ask them to also peruse the “Learn About Yarn” pages. If not all your students own computers on which to read, you might schedule some library or computer lab time for in-class reading.
  • Alert students to the theme you’ll be discussing in class. In a less advanced class, you might dedicate fifteen to thirty minutes of class time the day before this lesson to discussing the theme, so students know what they are looking for while reading.
  • Encourage students to take notes and jot down questions on paper as they read, especially noting specific lines that move them and relate to the theme.

In Class:

  1. After setting up the computer and screen, go to www.yareview.net and introduce YARN to the class, especially the “About YARN” page.
  2. Put your chosen writing up on the screen.
  3. Warm students up by asking what they thought about the assigned writing: What did they like about it?  What was it about?  Follow up with “why” questions, and ask that students support their answers with specific words and phrases from the story.  Write their thoughts on the chalkboard. (Advanced option: Ask the students to compare and contrast the two pieces you assigned. What did they have in common and how did they differ?  Ask them to back up their answers with specific lines from the texts.)
  4. If it hasn’t come up already, discuss the theme.  What is the theme, like body image or crossing cultures?  What are real-life, non-literary examples of the theme.
  5. Segue into questions that directly link the YARN writing to the theme.  How does the writing discuss the theme? Directly? Indirectly? Using metaphors or point of view?  Ask students to discuss the theme in literary terms you’ve already used in class, or to discover new terms.  Always ask student to support their answers with specific quotes from the writing. Again, write answers on the board.  (Advanced: Compare and contrast the ways in which the two pieces handle the theme.)
  6. As they discuss the theme, probe their pre-conceived notions about the theme.  Use the assigned writing to get them to think in more complex ways.  Students need not come to a consensus about any issues discussed. In fact, a lingering ambiguity might inspire more interesting writing.


There are several possible writing assignments that could come out of the discussion above, the second two of which could be submitted to YARN for possible publication. (We don’t recommend sending the essays that might result from the first prompt, because they would likely be more academic in tone and reflection, while the second two are more creative.) Please do encourage students to revise and improve their writing further, even after their pieces have been graded, before submitting work for publication.

  • Prompt 1: Write a short essay reflecting on the role of the theme in other writing you’ve encountered in class or elsewhere, and be sure to engage with the ideas presented in class.
  • Prompt 2: Write a short creative essay in which you reflect on a time when you came face to face with the theme under discussion.
  • Prompt 3: Write a short story with a character who must deal with the theme in a unique and interesting way.

This writing portion of the lesson could be made into a take-home assignment, due several days after the in-class lesson (for classes of more advanced writers), OR it could be broken down into a longer writing lesson involving in-class and at-home brainstorming, and/or journaling, drafting, and revising (for an example of how this might break down, see the lesson on inference).


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