This handout is designed to help students understand the difference between topics in a story and themes. Students come up with a topic for their text (such as perseverance, revenge, family, etc...) and then have to find three examples of what is happening or being said in the text that relates to that topic. Using the story as the vehicle for the author to show us something about that topic the students then write down the message about life (the theme) that the author is trying to tell us, the readers. I have had great success teaching theme in this way.
Also, check out the PowerPoint that goes along with this handout.