A step-by-step guide for how to teach RL.2 in middle school ELA.
Theme, central ideas, and summaries… oh my! All part of the big ol’ standard that is known as RL.2. This second reading standard is a big one!
This particular standard, when you get down to it, really asks teachers if their students are actually picking up what people are putting down. Are they actually getting it… the point that others are trying to make, the message they are trying to send, the goal behind their words.
This is such a big standard, and it can be worked on in a variety of ways.
As with all standard-based units, we want to know what students know before we get started, so a good pre-assessment or even a quick self-assessment will help you figure out what your students may need the most help with here.
If you like the way we are focusing on this standard, you can take a page out of our book…literally!
We have fully developed unit resources for each of the middle school ELA standards for 6th, 7th, and 8th grade, which you can download by clicking on the images below!
As we start talking about how to teach RL.2 in middle school, let’s start with the learning targets!
By focusing on learning targets, we can model our lessons to hit on very specific goals and skills. In this post, we talk about how we break down each standard and make a plan for learning, practicing, and reviewing the standards throughout the year using the checklists below.
When starting to deconstruct a standard, start with the learning targets. To get the learning targets, break down the standard into 3-5 parts or key skills.
Here are the learning targets on which we developed our resources for RL.2.
6th Grade Standard: Analyze literary text development by determining a text’s theme and how it is conveyed through particular details and incorporating a theme and story details into an objective summary of the text.
6th Grade Learning Targets
- I can determine the theme/central idea of the text.
- I can support the theme/central idea using evidence from the text.
- I can create an objective summary based only on information from the text.
7th Grade Standard: Determine a theme and/or central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text; provide an objective summary of the text
7th Grade Learning Targets
- I can identify the central idea of a text & analyze the development
- I can identify the theme of a text & analyze the development
- I can produce an objective summary
8th Grade Standard: Determine a theme and/or central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text, including its relationship to the characters, setting, and plot; provide an objective summary of the text.
8th Grade Learning Targets
- I can find the theme or central idea of a text.
- I can analyze the development of the theme as the text progresses.
- I can relate the theme or central idea to the story elements of the text.
- I can devise an objective summary of the text.
Growing through Middle School
When students start middle school in 6th grade, the expectation is that they can find a theme/central idea and then use the details they find to support a statement about the theme or central idea.
As they progress through middle school, this standard develops, and the analysis part of the expectation starts to increase. By 8th grade, students need to not only identify the theme/central idea but also be able to analyze how it changes and develops, as shown through the different literary elements, including the characters, setting, and plot.
The 7th and 8th-grade expectation is much more complex than the 6th-grade because it suggests that the theme or central idea is being developed and molded throughout the text, not just clearly stated and explained as you might see in a 5th or 6th-grade text.
What this means is that teachers need to make sure they are choosing texts that are age-appropriate (level-appropriate) for practicing this work.
To help with this, you can use one of our fully built-out resources for this standard, or you can also use any of our Paired Passage sets. For each topic, we have created passages that are appropriate to each of these three grade levels.
Themes and Central Ideas
The dictionary defines a theme as a central topic, subject, or message within a narrative. This goes to say that a theme may sound or look different depending on the type of literature you’re searching in.
In a nonfiction work, the theme is more likely to be a message or subject, whereas in a fictional text, the theme is much less likely to be a subject. Students will want to be more focused on thinking about the theme as a central idea or a message the author is trying to get through in the background of the story.
When working on the RL.2 standard, we are focused on mostly fictional literature. We will also approach this similar standard regarding informational texts at different times.
Since we are focusing primarily on fictional texts, we’ll want to help students look for the message more times than not during this unit.
Here are a few questions you can use to help your students work toward identifying a theme.
- What does the author seem to focus on the most?
- What do the characters really want?
- What message is being shared in the book/movie?
- What kinds of words keep coming up?
- Is there a specific habit, action, or response the author seems to be focused on?
- What can we learn from the text?
Resources for teaching RL.2
When picking resources to help teach RL.2, you’ll want to make sure the resource teaches, practices, and reviews the standard at the appropriate level for the students you’re teaching.
Each of our resources for this standard…
…works through the standard using grade-level-specific passages and activities that help the student develop the standard completely.
The resources include a lesson/activity for each specific learning target or concept, as well as assessments, posters, and answer keys.
Activities and Projects for Practicing and Assessing RL.2 in Middle School
- Objective Summary Breakdown: By dividing the passage into individual pieces, students can summarize each piece of the passage and attempt to connect their breakdown back to the central idea/theme. This activity is part of our 6th-grade resource.
- Storyboard drawings are a great way to organize information from a passage and create a visual of what is happening in the story. We use storyboarding in our 6th grade RL.2 resource.
- An appropriate project for students at the 6th-grade level is to be given a theme for a text and then ask them to find the details to support it. In our 6th grade resource, we do this exact activity, but students are asked to provide the details through a graphic organizer.
- Since the 7th and 8th-grade RL.2 standards ask students to spend more time considering how the theme/central idea is developed, the activities in these grade levels can focus more on character development through thoughts and actions. Those thoughts and actions often point back toward a theme. In the 7th and 8th-grade resources, students are asked to find examples of how the thoughts and feelings of the story’s main character contribute to the development of the theme. Once you have this worksheet/graphic organizer, you can use it with any number of stories that you may read throughout the year.
- Use short animated videos for practice regarding the identification of the theme. Many of the animated shorts we see just before the showing of some of our favorite movies provide some fantastic practice for identifying and explaining how a theme can be developed.
Ensuring your students understand and master the standards feels like a huge challenge, and we understand that. That is why we create standards-focused resources that provide teachers with activities, lessons, and assessments that explicitly teach each of the middle school ELA standards.