Games to Teach Symbolism in Literature

Students are studying in the library.
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Analyzing literature through symbols gives students an opportunity to delve deeper into texts and themes. Many classic stories, such as William Golding's "Lord of the Flies" and Edgar Allan Poe's "The Fall of the House of Usher," are rich in literary symbolism. Games help students to identify and recall symbols in stories they read for class.

1 Symbol Hunt

Before class begins, place images of symbols from a recently read poem or novel throughout your classroom. For example, after reading and discussing "Lord of the Flies," print images of the symbols in the novel, including a conch, a pig and a pair of glasses. Try to place the symbols in areas where they blend in with their surroundings so students will have to search for the symbols. Have students work in teams or pairs to find as many symbols as possible. Give one point for each symbol found if the students can explain what it means. A variation of this game gives students a list of meanings for symbols placed around the room. The first team that finds all of the symbols corresponding to the given meanings wins.

2 Literary Bingo

Provide all students in the classroom with a bingo grid containing the meanings of various symbols. For example, the grid may contain words for symbols in William Blake's poem "The Sick Rose," including "love," "death," "chaos," and "confusion." Try to create multiple grids with examples to create variety in responses using symbols from several poems. Once each student has a bingo card, hold up a symbol. Students mark off a space on their bingo card if the meaning matches the symbol you have shown. For example, using the Blake poem, if you hold up a picture of a worm, students with the word "death" on their cards would be able to mark it off.

3 Speed Round

Challenge students to think of symbols they know from works of fiction they have read. Begin by dividing the class into two teams. Using a stack of cards marked with letters from the alphabet, randomly choose a letter card and present it to the class. Use this activity after reading a series of works. For example, after reading and discussing the works of Edgar Allan Poe, have students think of all of the symbols they learned. The group naming a symbol beginning with that letter first receives one point. Award an additional point for an explanation of the symbol. For example, if you hold up an "H," students may say "house" and explain that the old, decrepit house symbolizes the body of Roderick Usher in "The Fall of the House of Usher."

4 Classroom "Jeopardy"

Create a variation of the popular television game show "Jeopardy" by creating categories for meanings of symbols. For example, the categories could include love, power, death, and beauty. As in "Jeopardy," students will receive points for giving the correct answer in the form of a question. For example, your prompt may be "This symbol in 'Lord of the Flies' means power." The correct answer would be "What is the conch?"

Based in Los Angeles, Jana Sosnowski holds Master of Science in educational psychology and instructional technology, She has spent the past 11 years in education, primarily in the secondary classroom teaching English and journalism. Sosnowski has also worked as a curriculum writer for a math remediation program. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in print journalism from the University of Southern California.