Analyzing Silko's Poem Through Literary Devices

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SWBAT analyze Silko's poem by searching for and annotating literary devices in this Native American poem.

Big Idea

Studying literary devices in a poem leads to better understanding of it.


20 minutes

Students have already read Leslie Marmon Silko's poem. Today, I want them to reread it for deeper understanding as well as for initial analysis of language and its effect. To get them to do this, I use a chart I have used repeatedly in class, the ANNOTATE chart. This chart gives students suggestions as to the types of things they can annotate in a text. I add some specifics to the section titled “Appreciating Language.” Specifically, I add: diction, imagery, repetition, and figurative language. I know students have studied these repeatedly throughout their education, but I rarely find a student who does not need a refresher on these.

I begin by stating this belief, that they have all learned these before but that we likely need a refresher. I begin with the one that appears to be easiest, repetition. I tell students that this device is quite easy to remember and ask them to guess what it means. Several will guess accurately, that it basically refers to instances when the author chooses to repeat a certain word or phrase. I do let them know that it is not difficult to identify, but that the challenge is in explaining the effect of the language being repeated. I don’t expect them to know what this means today, but I just put it out there for future reference.

Next is figurative language. I always explain it alongside literal language and let students know that this is the best way of understanding what figurative language is. I ask if anyone knows what we mean by “literal.” Several students will be able to say something like, “It’s exactly what you mean.” I say, “Yes,” and expand that quick definition to, “The meaning of literal language is exactly what the words say.” I give them an example. I hold up a marker and say, “This is a black marker.” I pause and ask, “What am I trying to communicate?” Several will say, “That it is a black marker.” That illustrates literal language. I then tell them that figurative is the flip side of this. Figurative language says one thing, but it means something else. I give them an idiom as an example. I point to a student I know will not be embarrassed by this and say, “What if I say, X is a pig?” Students laugh. I say, “Do I mean that X is that pink animal with the curly tail?” They are easily able to tell me that what I mean is that X is dirty. That illustrates what figurative language is.

To explain imagery, I ask them to identify a word inside the word “imagery,” which several can easily identify as “image.” We briefly talk about the fact that authors try to paint images in the reader’s mind. I state that this is called imagery. I also tell them that when we are looking for good imagery, we are specifically looking for details, adjectives and descriptions of the five senses.

Finally, I explain diction. The definition I give them, author’s word choice, seems simple enough for students, but they need examples to fully understand. Today, they will see several examples. For now, I tell them that when analyzing diction, we are mainly looking at single words and short phrases that carry a lot of meaning in a text. I remind them of the connotation of words and remind them that this is another term we need to remember alongside its opposite, denotation. I tell them that denotation starts with the letter d, just like the word dictionary and that this can help them remember the definition, which is the dictionary meaning of a word. I explain that connotation, on the other hand, refers to all the added meanings and associations we attach to a given word. To illustrate, I use the words “house” and “home.” We discuss how the dictionary definition of both is very similar, but that each one has a different connotation. I ask them to tell me what they associate with home. Several say that home is a place where your family lives, a place that is cozy and comfortable. They understand.

I make sure that all these notes are on the board for reference during today’s lesson.

        Diction – word choice

-  strong connotation

Imagery – details, adjectives, description of 5 senses

Figurative language vs. Literal Language

- literal means exactly what language says

- figurative says one thing but means something else

Repetition - an author repeats a word or phrase

We are now ready to annotate.


15 minutes

I want students to annotate this poem using the following resources: the literary devices we covered today, the “Annotate” chart, and the Whole Group Analysis of chart-Juxtapose Mainstream Lit And Indigenous Lit. To model, I reread the first stanza of the poem aloud and ask students to identify examples of anything in these resources. Students begin to make suggestions and they all mark them on their paper. Someone identifies “there were no white people” as a powerful quote, “except” and “complete” as diction, “This world was already complete” as a critique of colonialism. As we do this, we are also discussing the poem, which is one goal of this activity.

I then ask students to work in small groups to do the same to the next two stanzas. I walk around and guide students along. See a short video of this process.

Whole Group Discussion

20 minutes

Once students finish this work, we come back to working whole group and I ask students to share the things they annotated. Students find examples of the metaphysical, conversational language, imagery and other things. Conversational language was confusing for many. They mistakenly thought that this refers to instances where characters in a story are holding a conversation. I clarify by stating that this actually refers to a conversational tone from the author to the reader. The beginning of the third stanza offers a great example and helps students better understand this. Today, we only have enough time to annotate the first two or three stanzas. I tell students we will be doing the same to the following page the following day.