How to Analyze Anything: Unpacking Symbolism

How to Analyze Anything: Unpacking Symbolism
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  • StandardsNEW

I always find that symbolism is the literary technique that students think they understand...but usually misidentify or misinterpret the most, especially after it is first introduced to them. So, to help them get a better grasp of it (and to save us all a lot of grief), I designed these resources to guide them.

I use these lessons with high school students. They focus on universal symbols and their common meanings in Western literature (NOT including archetypes) in general, and not on symbols in certain pieces of literature, so they are adaptable to any piece of literature. While I usually use these with juniors and seniors who have already been introduced to symbolism, you can easily modify these for difficulty for younger students.

If you choose to use all items in the resource consecutively as suggested below, you will need approximately 2 class hours. However, you may also use the items individually as part of your own lesson plans and/or depending on the experience and skill level of your students.

This resource includes:

1. “Cards” for an introductory symbolism mini-lesson.

2. A 2-page handout for students explaining what symbolism IS, what it is NOT, and providing some tips for recognizing symbolism while reading.

3. A 2-page practice assignment walking students through “unpacking” symbolism in well-known pieces of literature. This item includes a suggested answer key.

4. A 2-page Common Universal Quick Reference for students with explanations and examples of common universal symbols.

5. A 2-page Unpacking Symbolism Flow Chart with follow-up analytical questions that is designed to guide students through identifying and analyzing symbols. (No answer key--not applicable)

Note: This resource is not editable.

Log in to see state-specific standards (only available in the US).
Read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently.
Analyze the structure of texts, including how specific sentences, paragraphs, and larger portions of the text (e.g., a section, chapter, scene, or stanza) relate to each other and the whole.
Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone.
Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.
Total Pages
13 pages
Answer Key
Teaching Duration
2 hours
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Gayle Martin

Gayle Martin

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