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The ONE WORD that helps students write about ideas in studied texts.

Updated: Nov 20, 2023

writing about ideas in texts

Students often make two mistakes when writing about ideas in texts they study in English. Take this charming sentence for example:

The theme is genetic engineering.

1. The sentence doesn’t make sense.

2. The student is simply naming the topic, not what’s specifically being illustrated about it.

Sentences like this suggest the student doesn’t really understand the text.

Instead insist that students use the word ‘that’ in any sentence they write about the key message in their text. This forces them to explain specifically what the creator wants us to understand – the message they want us to know.

You'll also find they abandon the word 'theme' because they struggle to have it make sense in a 'that' sentence. This is good. I avoid using the word 'theme' in my classroom at ALL. It is GONE. Using 'idea' is where the sense and grades are at!

So, instead of:

The theme is genetic engineering. (Doesn’t make sense. Doesn’t tell us anything.)

Students might write:

  • The idea explored here is THAT genetic engineering will only result in another form of prejudice.

  • Through his film Gattaca, Andrew Niccol illustrates the depressing idea THAT, no matter how advanced society appears to be, humans will always find a reason to isolate a group.

writing about ideas in texts

Instead of:

The theme is the horror of war. (Doesn’t make sense. Doesn’t tell us anything.)

Students might write:

  • Hereaka illustrates the idea THAT we must change the narrative about the experiences of our Māori soldiers during and after war time.

  • In her novel, Legacy, Whiti Hereaka explores the idea THAT we must navigate our way through life with the influences of both fate and our own free will.

Getting a bit off track, but for what it’s worth, I like to focus on the elements of a text separately but for each, towards the end of our study of that aspect, push students to think about how that element tells us something about human behaviour or our world (our past, present (trends in particular) and our speculated future). In other words, what ideas are being illustrated here.

The final step is to plonk one of those key ideas in the middle of a page then around this, note things from each element that help illustrate that idea. You, or students, can easily set up a quick template for this (see image below). The benefit of this method is that:

1. Students gather evidence to use in a discussion about the main idea.

2. They can see how elements of their text connect.

3. It’s visual so … better IMO. (I’m all about the visual!)

4. It forms a fantastic one-pager for studying.

5. It helps students make sense of the text as a whole.

writing about ideas in texts

Happy teaching!


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