Teaching the Literary Term Symbolism

Teaching symbolism: ideas for making it meaningful to secondary students.

Teaching that literary term symbolism… students may have difficulty understanding all of its implications.

A favoriteΒ literary term? Symbolism is it for me. When I teach The Great Gatsby, I must remind myself not to spend too much of a lesson plan mapping out characters and their colors.

I also appreciate the varying interpretations students have. Because symbolism is largely open to interpretation, it can be difficult to find agreement, especially with older students looking to quarrel for the sake of quarreling.

Students, however, really get involved with symbolism – and that is wonderful. Once they grasp the concept, they enjoy reading more. An understanding of the literary term symbolism greatly improves students’ approaches to English class. Here are a few methods I’ve tweaked to teach the literary term symbolism.

The literary term symbolism - might overwhelm secondary students because the possibilities for analysis are endless. Follow a few of these tricks when teaching symbolism.

Explain colors.

Symbolism in literature is there though, especially concerning colors. Authors purposely place colors in literature for a deeper understanding of characters, setting, etc. When students associate colors with characters, they have a better connection to their reading.

This Santa commercial for Mercedes-Benz caught my attention the other day. As Santa rolls out the cars, the road is labeled “nice” on one side, “naughty” on the other.

Red cars are for naughty, white for nice – of course.

White is pure and clean, while red is blood and dangerous.

It’s a quick clip to introduce the literary term ‘symbolism’ or to emphasize colors and meaning in literature.

Explain everyday gestures.Β 

Our gestures symbolize a message. Don’t let students use their middle fingers, but yes, that gesture symbolizes something.

In our culture, we use the “ok” symbol, “thumbs up” symbol, and the “winding finger” for goofy or silly.

When you can relate the literary device to students, they remember the concept! Try one of these approaches for teaching symbolism.

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