We read Of Mice and Men as a class. Everyone liked it. I couldn’t wait to read the literary analysis essays about it. After the fourteenth consecutive D-, I realized nobody understood the broader meaning of the novel. I had failed in teaching symbolism. As a punishment, I hanged myself in effigy from the ceiling. I used a rolling chair. It darted out from under me. I fell on my head, received a third degree concussion, and lay unconscious. When I awoke, John Steinbeck stood over me, called me Lennie, pulled out a gun, and shot me, not with a bullet, but with a teaching symbolism lesson plan and strategies.
I share it with you.
Teaching Symbolism Background Information
Discuss the following concepts. Take notes where applicable:
Symbolism allows people to communicate beyond the limits of language.
Humans use symbolism all the time. Words themselves are mere symbols for something else.
A symbol is a person, place, or object that stands for something beyond itself.
National, religious, and cultural symbols have standard interpretations as well as a personal significance for each individual. For example, the American flag symbolizes the United States of America. The personal significance, however, varies. A U.S. army veteran cherishes its meaning. A terrorist, on the other hand, finds it despicable. A green piece of paper with George Washington’s picture on it symbolizes one dollar. A billionaire considers it chump change. A beggar considers it an elusive treasure.
This is an excellent exercise for teaching symbolism:
- Choose a well known religious, national, or cultural symbol
- write a (half) paragraph analyzing its meaning. Include the standard meaning along with a personal interpretation and a personal interpretation from someone else.
- The personal nature of the assignment makes it excellent for a paragraph challenge.
A literary symbol gains its meaning from the context of a literary work and often changes as the work develops.
Strategies and Procedures for Teaching Symbolism in Literature
Strategy: Look for references to concrete objects and analyze whether they could be symbols. Pay special attention to objects named in the title.
**Procedure:**Make a two-column chart. In the left column, write down the concrete object. In the right column, write what it may symbolize.
Strategy: Pay special attention to objects or places accompanied by a lengthy description, repetition, or special placement.
**Procedure:**Analyze the title. List objects mentioned more than once. List objects that appear at crucial moments.
Determine whether a place, object, or character is essential to the theme of a literary work.
Extension Activity: Write a literary symbol analysis. It should include the following:
A topic sentence that names the literary work and the symbol.
Possible interpretations for the symbol.
The symbol’s effect on the work as a whole.
The author’s purpose in using the symbol.
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