How to Help Your Students Analyze Main Idea and Theme with Ada’s Violin

How to Help Your Students Analyze Main Idea and Theme with Ada's Violin
Teaching Main Idea and Theme

What’s a great way to teach main idea and theme that really sticks? I have found some ways that consistently work well with my upper elementary students when we are digging deep into a work of narrative nonfiction that I want to share with you. Why narrative nonfiction? Well, mainly because narrative nonfiction books have main ideas because they’re nonfiction, but they also have themes because they’re stories.

One of my favorite books to use for this lesson is Ada’s Violin: The Story of the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay. Since this is a beautifully written and illustrated book, it’s important to just read it all the way through one time. After the first read, we reread and start to look at the main idea as well as topics and themes that have emerged.

Any teacher already knows that the main idea is essentially a brief summary of a book. Ada’s Violin is the story of a child who lives in the impoverished town of Cateura that grew up around a garbage dump outside of Paraguay’s capital city of Asunción. Adults in the town are concerned about the futures of the children. A man named Favio Chávez wants to give the community hope so he starts a music school. He knows that even if he can get instruments for the children that real instruments will likely be stolen so he enlists the help of Don Cola Gomez, a trash worker and carpenter, who is able to make instruments from the trash. So, what’s the main idea? My students came up with: “The Recycled Orchestra of Cateura began because the music teacher didn’t have enough instruments and the dump was full of useful materials.” Another main idea could be that Ada’s grandmother Marian wanted Ada and her sister to have a better life that she had, so she signed them up for music lessons with Favio Chávez.

Now on to theme. What’s the most effective way to “get at” theme? It’s best to focus on topics. I’m certainly not the first person to focus on brainstorming about topics to get at theme and I know this. Two of my favorite videos to help with this approach are: and What’s crucial in determining theme is inferring how the author feels about a topic in a story. For example, some of the topics in Ada’s Violin: The Story of the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay are poverty, perseverance, creativity, hope, determination, recycling, respect, being thankful, optimism, and family. Students need to choose one of the topics and think about how the author feels about the topic. It helps to write “The author believes that…” as shown in the second video. One of themes my students inferred for the topic of creativity was: “Anything can be done with creativity.” Others might be: “Turning trash into treasure is a beautiful idea for the ears as well as the eyes” or “Repurposing trash is not only great for the environment, but can help energize a community” and other thematic statements. After students articulate themes, they pass their notebooks to other students and their peers provide evidence to support the themes.

In addition to reading the book, I like to show my students a related 60 Minutes Video There are also other articles and videos out there including this one from NPR:

How to Help Your Students Analyze Main Idea and Theme with Ada's Violin

I use the same technique for inferring theme frequently enough that my students begin to say, “The author believes that…” before they state themes they have identified.

I have developed several lessons using these techniques. I am offering as a FREEBIE for a limited time beginning at 9 PM EST on February 20, 2020.

Other lessons include:

Rosa Book Companion:

Wilma Unlimited Book Companion:

Wringer Book Companion (Final Lesson):

This Post Has 41 Comments

  1. Angela

    Great ideas!

    1. amazingmaterials4you

      Thank you!

  2. Eva Griffin

    Great information! Thank you!

    1. amazingmaterials4you

      You’re welcome! I hope you enjoy the rest of the posts and all of the great freebies.

  3. Sara

    Thanks so much for sharing these great ideas!

    1. amazingmaterials4you

      You’re quite welcome! I hope you enjoy the other posts and freebies!

  4. Briana McGhee

    This is super helpful. Thank you!

    1. amazingmaterials4you

      Thank you so much! I appreciate the feedback. I hope you enjoy the blog hop.

  5. Cindy Burrell

    The link to the Freebie that began on 2/20 is not working for me.

    1. amazingmaterials4you

      Hmmm. Let me see what I can do.

    2. amazingmaterials4you

      I think I fixed so I hope you’ll try again!

  6. jackie

    Great ideas! Thanks for the freebie :)

    1. amazingmaterials4you

      You’re so very welcome! Enjoy the blog hop!

  7. Carol Tavares

    Helpful resources. Thanks for sharing you work.

    1. amazingmaterials4you

      Thank YOU for joining our event! Enjoy the blog hop.

    1. amazingmaterials4you

      I hope you enjoy the blog hop and all of the great freebies!

    2. amazingmaterials4you

      Congratulations! You won the raffle. Check your email.


    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and resources!

    1. amazingmaterials4you

      You’re welcome! Thanks for stopping by!

  9. deb

    Wow! Incredibly helpful!

    1. amazingmaterials4you

      Thank you so much! I appreciate the feedback. Have fun blog hopping.

  10. Kerrie Martin

    I appreciate the links to the YouTube videos. This will definitely help when I teach theme to my students.

    1. amazingmaterials4you

      I’m so glad! I hope you’ll download my freebie, too and visit all of the other blogs.

    2. amazingmaterials4you

      I’m so glad to know this! Thank you.

  11. Anna

    Awesome resource! Thank you for sharing!

    1. amazingmaterials4you

      You’re so welcome! Enjoy all of the great freebies we’re offering!

  12. Alexa

    Thank you for the video link ideas. My students will enjoy them. :)

    1. amazingmaterials4you

      Excellent! I hope you’ll head to Teachers Pay Teachers to grab my freebie! Enjoy the blog hop.

  13. Helen Jo Morse

    I have looked at this lesson before – thanks for more detailed info on it :)

    1. amazingmaterials4you

      You’re quite welcome! I hope you enjoy the blog hop.

  14. Barbara Edmondson

    Thank you

    1. amazingmaterials4you

      You’re welcome!

  15. Penny

    This is a great blog post as students often need lots of reinforcement and practice on the topic of theme. I appreciate the freebies! :)

    1. amazingmaterials4you

      I’m so glad to know this! Thank you!

  16. Debra Burghgraef

    Thank you! Great Ideas!

    1. amazingmaterials4you

      You’re quite welcome! Enjoy all of our great freebies!

  17. Sandy Cangelosi

    Great information provided in this post!

    1. amazingmaterials4you

      I’m delighted to know this!

    1. amazingmaterials4you

      Thank you so much!

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