Can't we just read the book without worrying about all that extra stuff?
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It's a fair question. Why worry about tone, imagery, personification, and alliteration if the author didn't think it was necessary to point them out anyway? Why spend time learning the names of literary devices and how authors use them to tell a good story?

Here's the least satisfying answer to that questions: because it's going to be on the test. For any college-bound kid, literary devices will be on the tests. They'll be on the SAT and ACT, and they'll have to use their knowledge of literary devices when they take Freshman English at college. But that's like telling a kid she has to learn geometry because it's required by the state. It doesn't really help. 

What's the most satisfying answer to that question?

By learning about literary devices, you gain a deeper appreciation and understanding of literature. 

One of my kids has absolutely no interest in football. He doesn't care about how scoring works, doesn't care about offense or defense, couldn't care less about 2-point conversions. Therefore, when we go to a football game or watch one on TV, he's bored. Sure, he likes to soak up the ambience and eat a hot dog, but the game is lost on him. He goes home with pretty much the same attitude as when he arrived--maybe he's a little less hungry.

My dad, on the other hand, knows everything there is to know about football. He can't get enough of it because not only does he know all the rules and statistics, but he knows how each team did last year and the year before. He knows which coaches have switched teams and which players' brothers played and what their positions were. He knows what kinds of skills are essential for each position on the field. With all of this knowledge, the games are exquisitely entertaining and fulfilling, and that's how literature is when you know all the ins and outs.

When you know that Clare Vanderpool's allusion to Moby Dick in Moon Over Manifest enriches the story of a protagonist searching for something unattainable, you feel rich. When you understand that stars symbolize people in Number the Stars, and you know it because you figured it out yourself, you feel like you've climbed to the summit of a peak and now you can enjoy the breathtaking and extensive view. When you know how literature works and you understand how to dig deeply and immerse yourself in it, you're not just an insider; you get to live deeply and richly and see more than others see.

So as you teach homeschool literature, don't neglect literary devices. Print the above sheet out (email me for a printable pdf if you'd like), or get a larger version at The Book Pound, and post it where you and your students can refer to it often. Talk about themes, irony, and foreshadowing. Don't skim stories like a pauper; read as richly as a king.

 


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