Writing about literature can be daunting, no matter what grade or skill level. Before writing begins, students need to have a general understanding of literary elements in order to feel confident when they encounter the language of fiction often found in literature essay prompts. Early in my teaching career, I shared a lengthy literary devices handout with my students. It covers everything from alliteration to leitmotif, and the author kindly uses color-coding to clarify which terms are “elements” of fiction and which are authorial “techniques.” I thought at the time I was doing my students a great favor by providing this comprehensive resource, but I was only causing more confusion. A case of “more is too much.”
I realized that I needed to minimize our discussion terms so that my students could comprehend the process of finding meaning in text. Later, they could digest more terms, of course, but initially it seemed appropriate to break down the basics into manageable bites. I whittled away at the devices while considering fundamental storytelling as the root of my lessons. There’s nothing earth shattering about the choices made, except that I came up with an acronym to help students remember these starting elements.
The acronym works for memorization and as an invitation to enter the world of fiction.
Opening the Door
Start with Setting and Narration. These are the easiest to pinpoint. Where does the story take place and who is telling the story?
The setting includes time and era, the country/state (real or created), the space and that space’s event. After all these are named, discussions can be drawn from the influence these answers have on the characters and plot. For instance, a character will behave differently if she exists in the 1800s, if she was raised in the city of Mumbai and now finds herself on a farm in Idaho, or if she is a terribly shy person invited to a strictly social event. Later, once all the information is gathered, the setting can become a character or symbolic, but in this initial stage, the labeling and defining are what is important.
Make narration a quick lesson. There are only two options. A first-person narrator is a character in the story and speaks using “I” and “we.” The third-person narrator tells the story as an observer, acting as a lens and never entering the story by using “I” or “we.” However, the third-person narration can have different abilities. An objective third-person narrator simply tells the story without knowing the characters’ feelings, while the subjective third-person narrator knows one, some or all of the characters’ feelings and thoughts. These elements can create complications further down the literary road, and the subjectivity may reveal itself slowly, but for this purpose, to empower students with tools and knowhow, these elements should be gallantly checked off the list and considered understood.
Look for the rest of this scaffolded lesson in two future blogs under WRITE. Happy Reading!
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