Focus Questions: What is symbolism? How does the use of symbolism affect meaning in fictional text?
Distribute the Symbols worksheet (L-6-1-2_Symbols.doc) to each student. Say, “Take a few minutes to analyze the objects on this worksheet and think about what the pictures might stand for or represent.” Guide students to understand what the following objects represent:
- dove symbolizes peace
- heart symbolizes love
- skull symbolizes danger or death
- Statue of Liberty symbolizes freedom
Have students record these connections below each object on their worksheet. Say, “Think about other objects that are symbols and explain what they represent.” Record students’ responses on the board/interactive whiteboard.
You may wish to have students brainstorm objects or symbols that represent the United States of America, such as the following:
- bald eagle
- White House
- American flag
- liberty bell
- U.S. Capitol
- Uncle Sam
Say, “Authors often use a type of figurative language called symbolism. Symbolism is the use of an object to represent an abstract idea. You are going to be identifying how symbolism is used in literature and analyze its effect on the meaning of a text.”
Read aloud the picture book The Keeping Quilt.
Say, “The quilt in the story symbolizes many of the major events that take place in the main character’s life. It affects the meaning of the story in the way it impacts the sequence of events or the plot of the story.” Have partners discuss the term plot. Guide students to recall that the plot of a story is the sequence in which the author arranges the major events. On chart paper, list the following questions and have small groups discuss the answers:
- What is the quilt made of? (a basket of old clothes, Anna’s babushka, Uncle Vladimir’s shirt, Aunt Havalah’s night dress, and Aunt Natasha’s apron)
- How is the quilt used from generation to generation? (It is passed on from mother to daughter for almost a century. For four generations, the quilt is used as a Sabbath tablecloth, a wedding canopy, and a blanket that welcomed babies into the world.)
- What does the quilt symbolize? What does it mean to family members? (the family’s enduring love; the family’s native homeland, Russia)
Distribute a copy of the Effects of Symbolism graphic organizer (L-6-1-2_ Effects of Symbolism.doc) to each student. Guide students to complete the organizer by filling in the following responses:
- Title: The Keeping Quilt
- Author: Patricia Polacco
- Symbol: Students should sketch the quilt.
- Effects on the Plot:
- Sequence of Events:The sequence of events revolves around the quilt.
- The story begins with the making of the quilt, using pieces of family members’ clothing.
- The quilt is used for generations as a Sabbath tablecloth, a wedding canopy, and a blanket to welcome babies into the family.
- The story ends with the cloth being wrapped around a new baby, and the reader can infer that when the baby grows up, she will also use the quilt.
- Resolution: The quilt has allowed the story to end on a positive note. The repeated use of symbolism creates a warm and uplifting tone, which may make students reflect on their own family traditions.
- Effects on Characters:
- Characters: The main characters are affected by the quilt because it has an impact on their lives. The main characters are passing along a family tradition, which is woven into the fabric of the cloth. This quilt is symbolic of the family’s everlasting love because the story of their ancestors will live forever.
Have small groups read the picture book An Angel for Solomon Singer. Then distribute a new copy of the Effects of Symbolism graphic organizer to each student. Say, “In your group, you will find a copy of the book An Angel for Solomon Singer, which you will read. When you have finished reading, each of you will complete the Effects of Symbolism graphic organizer.”
The following example provides possible responses for the graphic organizer:
- Title: An Angel for Solomon Singer
- Author: Cynthia Rylant
- Symbol: Students should sketch the café and Angel.
- Effects on the Plot:
- Sequence of Events:The sequence of events revolves around the Westway Café.
- The story begins with Solomon wishing that everything around him looked more like Indiana, his boyhood home.
- Solomon stumbles upon the Westway Café. While in the café, he reads on the menu “where all of your dreams come true,” which later becomes a reality for him. It is also at this time that he meets the waiter named Angel, who is kind and gentle. During Solomon’s visits to the café, he continuously orders his food but silently orders his dreams, too.
- At the end of the story, Solomon has transformed from lonely and unhappy to upbeat and optimistic. He finally realizes that everything around him can be beautiful if he chooses to see it that way. Solomon realizes that he has found a place he can call home—the Westway Café.
- Resolution: The café and Angel have allowed the story to end on a positive note. Their use as symbols has created a tone of optimism, which may leave readers feeling more optimistic about their own lives.
- Characters: The main character, Solomon Singer, is affected by the Westway Café and the waiter named Angel. The Westway Café and Angel are both symbolic because their names represent a deeper meaning. The Westway Café reminds Solomon of his hometown in the Midwest, and Angel is like an angel to Solomon by helping him search within himself to find happiness again.
- Effects on the Characters:
Have students share the answers on their graphic organizers. Give students an opportunity to reflect on how symbolism affects the plot and meaning of a text. Record students’ responses on the board/interactive whiteboard.
- Students who are ready to go beyond the standard can further explore symbolism by using the books listed in Materials. After reading these books, students should complete the Effects of Symbolism graphic organizer to show their understanding of symbolism and its effect on the plot and meaning of a story.
- Students who need additional opportunities for learning can read the books listed in Related Resources. Guide students to identify symbolic objects and use the graphic organizer to help them analyze how these objects affect the plot and overall meaning of the text.
- For students who are able to complete a higher-level activity on symbolism, instruct them to think of an object that has significance in their own life. Have students use the Effects of Symbolism graphic organizer to write their own creative story using symbolism. Encourage students to share their stories with the class.