Instruction & Curriculum

Please Stop Teaching Students to Identify Literary Elements

I have been trying to sell resources on Teachers Pay Teachers, and I admit to stalking checking out some of the top sellers.
Many of them sell handouts or posters or worksheets that teach students to identify literary elements.
In my opinion, this type of lesson is a complete waste of time.
There is no standardized test—not the new SAT or the PARCC test or the AP Literature or AP Language—where students are required to define literary terms.  And there is no place on any of these tests where students are required to spot them either.
What they have to know is how those elements work to create meaning.  This means that if they don’t know the difference between personification and anthropomorphism, but they understand the effect of the phrase on the reader and how that effect helps the author make her point, then they are all set.
Literary elements are not there to add decoration or fanciness to a text—they are there to create meaning and to convey that meaning to a reader.
I understand that it is very easy to test for literary element definitions—so easy, in fact, that it can be done with a multiple choice quiz.  But even though that might be a nice break for an already over-worked English teacher, it’s not what I want my students to learn.
It takes time to teach students how literature works, but when broken down into steps, it is not such a big mystery.

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