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Reading comprehension

Identifying themes and conventions

Explainer Video

Tutor: Kat


Identifying themes and conventions

​​In a nutshell

A theme is the primary idea or message that readers are supposed to get out of a text. Conventions are the methods the writer uses to convey these ideas and themes. In this summary, you'll learn about the different themes and conventions in writing.


A theme is a recurring idea or image in any work. In stories, a theme is a message which a writer is trying to show the reader. Themes can express judgements such as, 'stealing from a shop is wrong', or 'human beings are equal, irrespective of race or gender'. Writers use their writing to show, or try to prove, these views and ideas to their readers.     





The Boy Who Cried Wolf 

A shepherd boy repeatedly tricks the nearby villagers into responding to his pleas for help by lying about an approaching wolf.
When the wolf finally arrives, nobody responds to his cries for help, because they think he's lying, and the wolf eats his sheep.

No one will believe a person if they are a liar, even when they are telling the truth.

A Totally Made Up Story About A Football Trio

A team of three football players had never won a football match before because each player would try to score without passing to his teammate.
One day the players decided they would pass to each other instead of dribbling and they scored a lot of goals and won the match.

Without teamwork, a person won't be successful.

Tip: A story can contain many different themes at once.


Conventions are the features which are expected in certain genres of writing, such as fairy tales, mystery stories, science fiction and ghost stories. These different conventions, characteristics and rules make each genre recognisable. 




Fairy tale

  • Fairy tales start with 'Once upon a time'.
  • Fairy tales have a mix of human characters and magical ones.
  • Fairy tales usually have a theme about good overcoming evil.

Love story / Romance

  • Love stories are usually about a couple who aren't together at the beginning of the story, but they fall in love eventually.
  • Love stories have happy endings.
  • Love stories often have emotional themes.

Science fiction 

  • Science fiction stories are frequently set in fictional worlds.
  • Science fiction stories contain elements of adventure and can involve space exploration as well as time travel.
  • These stories often have themes concerning the future, utopias and dystopias and alien life.

Historical fiction

  • Historical fiction is set in a real place during a culturally recognisable time.
  • Historical fiction has characters that are either completely imagined or based on real people.
  • These stories often have themes about social class, politics and war.

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FAQs - Frequently Asked Questions

What are the conventions of the science fiction genre?

What is a theme?

What is a convention in fiction?


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