Plot and Theme

Reading Comprehension
Pre-Reading Activity
Grades 6–12
Language Arts, History, Performing Arts
Small Group, Entire Class, Writing


  • Students will understand the difference between plot and theme, two literary elements that are easily confused.
  • Students will demonstrate the difference between plot and theme through short, written skits.


Plot and theme are often easily confused. This activity will help to clear up any confusion. Plot is essentially the action, and theme is the moral, ideas, or message of the story.

Materials Needed/Preparation

  • Before reading Travels with Charley, teachers/students should read to the class (at any age—it is fun!) the Aesop fable, In “The Hare and the Tortoise” (also known as “The Tortoise and the Hare”).
  • Copies of Travels with Charley
  • Students’ notebooks.

Estimated Time

  • 2 class periods for teacher/student preparation
  • 1 – 2 class periods for presentations/discussions by students.


Ask students what they know about plot and theme.

  • Discuss the difference between plot and theme. Quite simply, plot is what happens in a story—essentially the action. Theme is what the story is about—its message or moral. In “The Hare and the Tortoise” (also known as “The Tortoise and the Hare”):
  • ~The plot is about how the hare (rabbit) makes fun of the slow turtle. The turtle challenges the faster hare to a race. The hare gets off to a fast start. Thinking he can easily win, the hare stops running and decides to take a nap before finishing the race. The hare sleeps too long, and the slow turtle eventually wins the race.
  • ~The theme is what the story is about. In this case, the message could be “slow and steady wins the race,” “determination,” and “underestimating your opponent.”
  • What are some of the themes in Travels with Charley? Some suggestions:
  • ~Journeys
  • ~Aging
  • ~The Cold War
  • ~Nature and the Environment
  • ~Consumerism
  • ~Change
  • ~American Identity
  • ~Being Lost
  • ~Racism
  • ~Government vs. People (Bureaucracy vs. Individuals)
  • After discussion, students, in small groups, can create (in written form—descriptive and narrative) a brief skit, illustrating plot and theme (from their own original work). Ideally, students will write a skit with a theme related to Travels with Charley. Then, students will perform their skit for the class. Groups then can ask the audience to identify each element (plot and theme) shown in the skit.

Post Activity/Takeaways/Follow-up

Post Activity

  • Students can write their reactions (evaluations) to the students’ performances (following objectives) and give feedback to each group.


  • Students should be able to identify plot and theme, not only through other students’ writing, but through a skit.


  • Teachers can have students write an evaluation of the project and what they have learned.


  • During the reading of the book, teachers can provide regular quizzes on plot/theme, as well as have students perform skits in small groups.

California State Content Standards Met

  • Performing Arts: Theatre Content Standards 6-12
  • ~Artistic Perception: 1
  • ~Creative Expression: 2
  • ~Historical and Cultural Context: 3
  • ~Connections, Relationships, Applications: 5

Common Core State Standards Met

  • Reading Standards for Literature 6-12
  • ~Key Ideas and Details: 1,2,3
  • ~Craft and Structure: 4,5,6
  • ~Integration of Knowledge and Ideas: 9
  • ~Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity: 10
  • Writing Standards 6-12
  • ~Text Types and Purposes: 3
  • ~Production and Distribution of Writing: 4,5
  • ~Research to Build and Present Knowledge: 9
  • Speaking and Listening Standards 6-12
  • ~Comprehension and Collaboration: 1
  • Language Standards 6-12
  • ~Conventions of Standard English: 1,2
  • ~Knowledge of Language: 3
  • ~Vocabulary Acquisition and Use: 4,5,6
  • Reading Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies 6-12
  • ~Key Ideas and Details: 2
  • ~Craft and Structure: 4,5
  • Writing Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects 6-12
  • ~Production and Distribution of Writing: 4,5

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