Developing themes

The theme can be seen as the stitching that links the text together and provides cohesion. Creating a common theme throughout a piece of writing and presenting it in a logical sequence allows the reader to engage with the ideas in the text more deeply.


Students need to see examples of text showing varied abilities in writing with a theme. They need to be provided with a contextual opportunity to analyse why these cohesive devices are important and the impact it has on the audience. Students are then to apply this skill to their own writing and refine it through the editing process.

Some general strategies that can assist in building students ability to write thematically are: compare and contrast sample texts of different effectiveness; the use of graphic organisers to identify the main points of the theme; peer- and self-editing; and transferring a thematic idea into different content.

This latter strategy can be developed by building students capacity to link an idea (for example: toughness) from one content (for example: a character) to another (for example: a landscape). Spending time developing the idea builds a vocabulary and the links where an idea appears and can be sustained. In this example the idea of toughness in a character will be deepened by the toughness described in the landscape in which the character resides. This linking and sustaining of the idea also makes the writing more cohesive.

Activities to support the strategy

Activity 1: good versus evil

Select two sample texts from your subject area to show how a good and poor thematically written text impacts on the reader. As a class, read through the two texts and discuss their impact.

Which did you prefer to read? Why?
What didn’t you like?
How did you feel when you read the different texts?

Go back through the text and as a class/small groups, highlight the words that identify common themes (use different colours for additional themes). The text with poor thematic writing should stand out as having different colours and justify the confusion when first read.

Students in pairs can fix one section of the ‘poor’ sample by removing/restructuring/adding the information to align it with the common theme.

Activity 2: peer editing

Using track changes on Microsoft Word, students are to edit their partners work with a focus on cohesion and theme. Similar to activity one, students can highlight words that have supported a similar theme to visual represent the flow of the text. Once the student can gain a clear idea of the main theme, they are to read the text through again and ‘insert a comment’ on any section that does not seem to fit this. By using a question such as; why is this relevant? or how does this fit? It will allow the author to justify their reason and clarify this in the writing or recognise if the information is irrelevant.

Variations: If you do not have access to computers, this task can be completed on paper with highlighters; this can be a self-assessment tool also; a rubric can be used to assist students in identifying the cohesive devices.


Australian curriculum

ACELA1809: Text structure and organisation: Understand how coherence is created in complex texts through devices like lexical cohesion, ellipsis, grammatical theme and text connectives.

NSW syllabus

EN4-3B: Outcome 3: uses and describes language forms, features and structures of texts appropriate to a range of purposes, audiences and contexts (EN4-3B) - Understand and apply knowledge of language forms and features: understand how coherence is created in complex texts through devices like lexical cohesion, ellipsis, grammatical theme and text connectives.

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