6th Grade - Symbolism, Imagery And Metaphor

Stories and Literature
Symbolism, imagery and metaphor
Explain the effects of common literary devices (e.g., symbolism, imagery, metaphor) in a variety of fictional and nonfictional texts.
Recognize and explain the effect of literary devices such as symbolism, imagery, and metaphor in fictional and nonfictional text.

Sample Problems


What is an literary device? (construction or choice of language which an author uses to convey meaning)


What is symbolism? (Use of people, places, and objects that stand for something other than themselves)


What is imagery? (words that appeal to the reader’s senses)


What is a metaphor? (a comparison of two things that have some quality in common, saying that one thing “is” another – does not use “like” or “as”)


What is a simile (a comparison of two things that have some quality in common, using “like” or “as”)


What is personification? (Giving human qualities to something that is not human)


Why do authors choose to use literary devices when they could just state something directly?

Learning Tips


Read this excerpt from Martin Luther King’s speech “I Have a Dream” (http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/mlkihaveadream.htm)

In a sense we've come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the "unalienable Rights" of "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked "insufficient funds."


What metaphor is being used in this paragraph? (Constitution/Declaration of Independence = check


How is personification used in this paragraph? (America as writing a bad check)


What is the symbolism of the phrase “insufficient funds”? (freedom has not been granted)


Read this second excerpt from the speech.

Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.


Dr. King gave this speech at the Lincoln Memorial. Why did he choose this spot and how is it symbolic? How is the imagery in the paragraph important to the content of the speech?

Extra Help Problems


A Blessing


by James Wright

Just off the highway to Rochester, Minnesota,

Twilight bounds softly forth on the grass.

And the eyes of those two Indian ponies

Darken with kindness.

They have come gladly out of the willows

To welcome my friend and me.

We step over the barbed wire into the pasture

Where they have been grazing all day, alone.

They ripple tensely, they can hardly contain their happiness

That we have come.

They bow shyly as wet swans. They love each other.

There is no loneliness like theirs.

At home once more,

They begin munching the young tufts of spring in the darkness.

I would like to hold the slenderer one in my arms,

For she has walked over to me

And nuzzled my left hand.

She is black and white,

Her mane falls wild on her forehead,

And the light breeze moves me to caress her long ear

That is delicate as the skin over a girl's wrist.

Suddenly I realize

That if I stepped out of my body I would break

Into blossom.



Identify the imagery used by the author and how it affects your ideas and feelings as you read the poem.


Identify two similes in the poem. (“shyly as wet swans”, “as delicate as the skin over a girl’s wrist”)


Identify personification in the poem (twilight bounds softly forth; the eyes darken with kindness)


Create a metaphor for this poem, or change a simile into a metaphor.


Do you think the ponies could be symbols for something else? If so, what?


Choose a meaningful topic and write a story or poem about it, using literary devices.


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