Saturday, May 24, 2014

A New Literary Device Every Week? The Writer's Toolbox

Have you ever heard of "synecdoche"?  How about "chiasmus," "epistrophe," and "metonymy"?  I had no idea there are so many different types of literary devices -- tools that can be used in writing, to give clarity and embellishmentsa to communication.

Most people are familiar with a few of the well-known literary devices -- like simile, metaphor, irony, and alliteration.  But if you'd like to be introduced to more, just take a look at The Writer's Toolbox, by Patricia and Megan Samuelsen.  This mother-daughter team has written a book that can be used in introducing students to thirty-- yes, THIRTY-- different literary devices.

The format is to give examples, using short excerpts, from various literary texts, and with additional explanations, for one literary device at a time.  After demonstrating how it is used, there are exercises to help the student gain greater familiarity-- he/she is shown more short excerpts and asked to comment on how these are using the literary device.  Then, in a further exercise, the student writes sentences using the literary device.

This book is to be used with high school students, but I couldn't resist using a few of the lessons with James, starting in sixth grade.  We went through some of the more commonly known literary devices, and after doing the book exercises, he made a sentence and picture to demonstrate each writing tool, on a small wall poster.  Here is his first poster; we added to the poster with each new lesson.

And here is his second poster.

We revisited these lessons this year (eighth grade), just briefly, introducing one more of the literary devices.  The book is interesting, and the lessons have helped James learn quite a few tools for writing.

I can see that if used at the high school level, learning these literary devices would be helpful both for writing and for analysis of literary works.  They also present some very unusual vocabulary-- words like "liotes" and "polysyndeton."

The devices are arranged in four groups, and there is a written review quiz at the end of each group.  An appendix gives definitions and examples for all the literary devices, in alphabetical order.  And in another appendix there are instructions for two games (for a group of students) that can be played to practice the names and definitions.

The Writer's Toolbox is available online, at

How about it-- would you like some "synecdoche" with your "personification" and "alliteration"?