Your students do not understand the concept of theme.
Theme has always been one of those topics that I found difficult to teach. I soon discovered that paintings might be a great way to begin talk about overall meaning, which can then fire up a discussion about to theme.
I first show students the following image and we brainstorm what ideas it could be conveying. Students consider the possibilities and we record ideas on the board.
I explain that paintings tell stories and that we, as the viewer, need to unpack the meaning. Before exploring the concept of theme, we look at paintings and observe the overall meaning. We consider the visual elements being used to tell the story.
Here are a couple of images that I use and provide different tables in the class:
From here, we are read to introduce the notion of theme and subject. Now, these two words are slightly different.
Students need to understand that subject is the topic, while theme is the central idea or lesson. The theme is an elaboration of the subject, as you will see later.
Here is another painting. Tell students it shows fear, but they need to explain why. Explore the ideas and record on the whiteboard.
From there students need to record The author believes that…/the painter believes that…
This will allow them to formulate their ideas into a sentence. I have provided an example below:
We now need to add evidence to support this overall idea.
Now, you are ready to make that connection to the text students are studying. Provide them with a list of subjects as I have above. From there, they follow the same process and unpack the evidence and create a statement such as “We should fear the world around us” that functions as the theme of the text.