9 Tips and Tricks to Easily Teach What are Literary Techniques

Teaching writing is incredibly complex, but it’s also one of my favorite parts of teaching.  Everyone needs to know how to write well no matter what they decide to be when they grow up.  People are writing more than ever before from simple social media posts and text messages to more detailed emails, blogs, and books. Writing can and should be effective and meaningful to the audience when the writer has the right tools.  It’s our job as teachers to help students add these writing tools to their tool belts.  Literary techniques include several writing tools that can help our students find their writer’s voice and make their writing interesting to read.

Do I Know What Are Literary Techniques?

I am spending this year diving into writing to make myself a better teacher and curriculum creator.  I’ve determined that what I was taught about teaching writing in college barely scratches the surface of what teachers need to do to be effective writing teachers.  How did I determine this?

Well, if you take a look at my Teachers Pay Teachers store and my blogs then you will notice that my focus up to this point has been poetry.  I loved teaching poetry when I was in the classroom because I saw it had a positive effect on my students’ writing across the board and it was way more fun to write and grade than essays.  Poetry is a great way to teach so many writing skills, like literary devices, so I decided to start to work on literary devices lessons.

As I branch into new topics I always research because I like to be sure I am providing accurate and effective advice.  Researching literary devices overwhelmed me because there was so much more to it than I knew after over 10 years of teaching, and having both my bachelor’s and master’s degrees.

We Know More Than We Think We Do About What Are Literary Techniques

As I continued my research and tried to break down literary techniques in a comprehendible way that allowed me to use but also reshape my schema I realized that we all have some experience teaching them, but we probably didn’t know that they are literary techniques.  Literary techniques are writing skills a lot of teachers already teach, but we don’t call them by this writing term.  Why don’t we use the correct term?  Because unless we do a lot of research we simply don’t know.

What Are Literary Techniques?

Literary techniques fall under the umbrella of literary devices, just like literary elements. Literary elements are in charge of the big parts of our writing, and literary techniques are all about improving small parts of our writing.  Writing is all about expressing our thoughts and ideas and literary techniques can help us do that.  Literary techniques are the words or phrases a writer uses to creatively express themselves.  Literary techniques bring writing from boring to artistic.  

Literary Techniques will also help the reader when they read.  The reader will be able to visualize what the writer is talking about.  Literary techniques also lead to a better understanding and appreciation of the story.  Have you ever read a story so good that you sat there at the end just in awe of how great it was?  Chances are literary techniques helped to create that reading experience for you.

What is Exposition?  Examples of Backstory in Action

Are Literary Techniques the Same as Literary Devices?

What Are Literary Techniques and Ideas On How To Teach Them

Before we can start teaching literary techniques it’s important to understand what they are and why they are important?  Then I will dive into some teaching ideas as well as how to help your students incorporate them into their writing.  You should have some great ideas after reading this article.

Why Are Literary Techniques Important?

I believe that lots of little changes add up to a big change.  I think it’s true in life and as our students use literary techniques in their writing.  As students incorporate more literary techniques into their writing we will see their writing transform, which is exactly what we want.

Literary techniques help writers to share their message and idea with more clarity.  Literary techniques highlight specific and small parts of writing, which brings more attention to them.  It’s like highlighting key parts for the reader so the reader understands those parts better.

When a writer uses literary techniques their writing becomes stronger, more interesting, more engaging, and flows better. The pace of the writing improves too, there is more energy and excitement as the reader reads.  They often help the reader connect on an intellectual level and visualize the story or message better. The result is a reader who is gripped by the writing and fully engaged.  Of course, a fully engaged reader is going to understand the writing better and more deeply.  

Finally, literary devices help the reader connect on an emotional level.  When writers use literary techniques the reader often connects emotionally with the characters and writing.  The reader feels love, hate, suspense, fear, and action on a real level.  The reader’s emotional connection to the writing helps improve the depth of their understanding and their engagement.

List of Literary Techniques

Here is a quick list of some common literary techniques: 

1. Allegory – when the story represents more than it appears on the surface, usually symbolically. Examples include The Tortoise and the Hare and Animal Farm.
2. Allusion – is an indirect description of something.  We allude to things all the time.  The word allude clarifies this for me a lot.
3. Anthropomorphism – is when human traits are applied to things like objects, animals, or weather.  It’s different from personification because it’s talking dogs in cartoons.  Disney movies hold many examples like Beauty and the Beast or Cars
4. Exposition – is when a story gives background information to help the reader invest and understand.
5. Figurative language – is when the writer goes beyond the literal meaning of the word to creatively say what they want to say.
6. Flashback – is when the writer splits up the story between the past and present day.  The writer could be building suspense, building background information, or preparing for a big reveal.
7. Foil – is when the writer illustrates or reveals information about a character with a contrasting character.  The foil reveals values, motivations, or traits about a character, usually the protagonist that creates a deeper understanding of the character’s actions and choices.
8. Foreshadowing – is when the author drops hints, but leaves out facts to make the reader curious.
9. Parallelism – can be the repetition of a word or phrase.  It can also be opposite sides of the same idea.  Examples include no pain, no gain and cousins by chance, friends by choice.
10. Repetition – is when the author repeats themselves to make a point or create an atmosphere or feeling.

There are be more literary techniques not listed here, but this is a start.  Some of these you might recognize and others you might not.   

Ideas for Teaching Literary Techniques 

Now you know about literary techniques, which is great, but that does not translate into teaching them.  I’ve got some great ideas for how you can start to bring literary techniques into your classroom.  Bring your students’ writing from boring to inspiring by starting to incorporate some literary techniques lessons into your curriculum plan.

Teach Three, Pick One

Literary techniques are complex, and not every literary technique works well in every piece of writing.  Our goal is to help our students learn how to use them correctly.  Teach your students about three literary techniques.  They will probably discover that they like the idea of one more than the others.  Then have your students pick one that they will incorporate into their writing.  This gives them some choice and takes off the pressure.  Suddenly being asked to use all the literary techniques could be an overwhelming and daunting task, but one is manageable.  Grading Tip:  Have your students highlight their literary techniques and label them before they turn in their paper.   

Silly Sentences 

As you teach literary techniques have students come up with examples.  The twist is to give the students silly topics and have them write ridiculous, over-the-top examples that will help them remember the current literary technique lesson.  Then have students share their ideas in a small group. The conversation about the literary technique will be great for student learning. Each group can pick the two funniest and best examples to share with the class.  The class could even vote for the very best example and the winner gets a prize of some sort.  

Mentor Text Scavenger Hunt

Pick short stories or picture books with the literary technique you are currently teaching your students.  Have students hunt for the literary technique in the book.  This is a great way for students to see that professional writers use literary techniques and how.  Make sure you are intentional about the story you pick.  What I love about this activity is that you can have students work individually or in small groups.  They can have a lot of conversations about what they find and why they think it’s the literary technique you asked them to find.

Peer Review Treasure Hunt

It’s important to have students read and share work with each other because they will learn a lot from their classmates.  Have students write with a literary technique.  Maybe you just did the Teach Three, Pick One.  Then have students share their work with a classmate.  The classmate can try to find and label the literary technique their classmate used.  This allows students to practice and talk about their work.

Literary Technique Add-Ons

Write a short and boring paragraph that leaves plenty of room for literary techniques to be added.  I would actually have to write the paragraph with a literary technique and then delete it.  Give it to your students with plenty of room between lines and have them add literary techniques.  They will be able to see firsthand how it improves the paragraph.

Books That Help Students Understand What are Literary Techniques

These books have a large age range.  I tried to stick with books that most people would recognize or have read at some point.  It can be a challenge to find clear examples.  As I picked out these books I could see the literary technique used, at least for most of them.

  1. Allegory 

The Tortoise and the Hare

Animal Farm

The Squire and the Scroll 

The Dot and Chato’s Kitchen

  1. Allusion 

Animal Farm

The Chronicles of Narnia

The Velveteen Rabbit

The Emperor’s New Clothes

  1. Anthropomorphism 

The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe

Animal Farm

Charlotte’s Web

Tales of Despereaux

  1. Exposition 

Pride and Prejudice

Lord of the Flies

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

  1. Figurative language 

Quick as a Cricket

My Best Friend Is As Sharp As a Pencil

Owl Moon

  1. Flashback 

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

The Great Gatsby

Water for Elephants

  1. Foil 

Harry Potter 

Of Mice and Men

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

The Great Gatsby

Sherlock Holmes

  1. Foreshadowing 

Island of the Blue Dolphin

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

To Kill a Mockingbird

  1. Parallelism 

The Great Gatsby

East of Eden

A Tale of Two Cities

  1. Repetition 

Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?

Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes

Mrs. Wishy Washy’s Farm

Once Students Understand What are Literary Techniques, It’s Time To Write

As I explained before literary techniques will not be part of every piece of writing your students produce.  Your goal is for your students to understand them well enough that they can include them when appropriate.  They shouldn’t try to stuff a story or paper full of literary techniques.  They are a writing tool to be used sparingly so it truly enhances the writing.  It’s like adding spices while cooking, the right amount is good, but too much and you can’t eat the food.  Your students will have to practice incorporating literary techniques into their writing slowly with support.

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