Moby Dick is about a whale hunt gone bad. The Old Man and the Sea is about a fishing trip gone bad. The Great Gatsby is about a weekend party gone bad. The American flag is a red, white, and blue piece of cloth. Teaching symbolism will eliminate stupid answers like these.
A Symbol of Despair
We read Of Mice and Men as a class. Everyone liked it. I couldn’t wait to read the literary analysis essays about it. After the fourteenth consecutive D-, I realized nobody understood the broader meaning of the novel. I had failed in teaching symbolism. As a punishment, I hanged myself in effigy from the ceiling. I used a rolling chair. It darted out from under me. I fell on my head, received a third degree concussion, and lay unconscious.
When I awoke, John Steinbeck stood over me, called me Lennie, pulled out a gun, and shot me, not with a bullet, but with a teaching symbolism lesson plan and strategies.
I share it with you.
But first, make sure you download this teaching symbolism in literature chart:
ELA Common Core Standards Covered
The following assignments cover the following ELA common core standards for reading and writing. This is for your administrator, not your kids. Kids need student-friendly worded objectives.
- RL.9-10.1 Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.
- RL.9-10.2 Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze in detail its development over the course of the text, including how it emerges and is shaped and refined by specific details; provide an objective summary of the text.
- W.9-10.2 Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas, concepts, and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.
Teaching Symbolism: Background Information
Discuss the following concepts. Take notes where applicable.
- Symbolism allows people to communicate beyond the limits of language.
- Humans use symbolism all the time. Words themselves are mere symbols for something else.
- A symbol is a person, place, or object that stands for something beyond itself.
- National, religious, and cultural symbols have standard interpretations as well as a personal significance for each individual. For example, the American flag symbolizes the United States of America. The personal significance, however, varies. A U.S. army veteran cherishes its meaning. A terrorist, on the other hand, finds it despicable. A green piece of paper with George Washington’s picture on it symbolizes one dollar. A billionaire considers it chump change. A beggar considers it an elusive treasure. This is an excellent exercise for teaching symbolism.
- Choose a well known religious, national, or cultural symbol
- Write a (half) paragraph analyzing its meaning. Include the standard meaning along with a personal interpretation and a personal interpretation from someone else.
- The personal nature of the assignment makes it excellent for a paragraph challenge.
5. A literary symbol gains its meaning from the context of a literary work and often changes as the work develops. Instruct students to find a symbol and analyze it like you did with the above symbolism lesson plan.
- Find a symbol in a literary work (see below for strategies).
- Write a half-paragraph interpreting its meaning. Include any symbolic meaning the symbol might have outside the context of the literary work–the color white, for example.
- Read and discuss.
Strategies and Procedures for Teaching Symbolism in Literature
Strategy: Look for references to concrete objects and analyze whether they could be symbols. Pay special attention to objects named in the title.
Procedure: Make a two-column chart. In the left column, write down the concrete object. In the right column, write what it may symbolize.
Strategy: Pay special attention to objects or places accompanied by a lengthy description, repetition, or special placement.
Procedure: Analyze the title. List objects mentioned more than once. List objects that appear at crucial moments. Determine whether a place, object, or character is essential to the theme of a literary work.
Extension Activity: Write a literary symbol analysis. It should include the following:
- A topic sentence that names the literary work and the symbol.
- Possible interpretations for the symbol.
- The symbol’s effect on the work as a whole.
- The author’s purpose in using the symbol.
Teaching Literary Elements with Short Stories
Understanding literary elements is necessary for literary analysis. These short stories will help you teach literary elements.
- The Best American Short Stories
- Short Stories for Teaching Theme
- Short Stories for Teaching Irony
- Short Stories for Teaching Symbolism
- Short Stories for Teaching Conflict
- Short Stories for Teaching Foreshadowing
- Short Stories for Teaching Imagery
- Short Stories for Teaching Characterization