Literary terms. Literary devices. Literary techniques. Literary elements. Narrative elements. Figurative language. Figurative devices.
ALL. THE. WORDS.
Maybe you have a tight grasp on these terms and are able to pump out some kick-butt lessons on differentiating between them, resulting in your students being able to do the same. You’re just looking for some extra resources to help you get them there.
Or, maybe the terms are as jumbled in your mind as they sound and you’d like to have some clarity on their subtle differences before you teach them.
Regardless of your purpose for reading this, I hope you find what you’re about to read both useful and enlightening!
Literary Devices, Literary Elements, Literary Techniques, and Figurative Language. These terms are often misinterpreted as being one in the same, and are therefore incorrectly used interchangeably. While related, they are, however, completely different terms and require an understanding of their differences in order to be interpreted, employed, and taught effectively.
Think of it like a work of art, the final piece being the literary work or story, and the artist being the author.
DIFFERENTIATING BETWEEN ELEMENTS AND TECHNIQUES
Many literary devices have had a key role in the history of storytelling. As storytelling evolved and merged among generations and cultures, so did their literary devices.
The literary devices, or literary terms, would include everything needed to create the work of art. Some artistic devices are required for it to even be considered art in the first place, and are so fundamental that they are often used instinctually or without conscious effort. Others, on the other hand, are far more intentional and work to improve the piece’s overall effectiveness, creativity, or meaning.
Literary devices are the structures used by writers to tell the story or deliver the poem. Literary devices are used in conjunction with one another to convey messages and meanings intended by the author for the reader to understand. They can be as simple or complex as the author likes. Some require great craft and creativity to employ, while others are basic and can be utilized by youngest of writers. Some are essential to a story, meaning a story cannot function without them, while others are used specifically to beautify or add levels of meaning. When used properly, literary devices allow the readers to comprehend, appreciate, interpret, and analyze the writing.
Literary Devices are divided into TWO categories:
Literary Elements and Literary Techniques
In thinking of a piece of art, literary elements would include all of the physical supplies needed to build or create the artwork. This might include canvas, brushes, and paint for a painting, or clay, modeling tools, and wire for a sculpture. Without these supplies, a piece of art does not function properly. Clay is needed for a clay sculpture as paint is required for a painting. The artist will creatively select the type of clay, tools, paint, brushes, and canvas to best meet his or her needs in regards to the message, meaning, or purpose of the artwork; however, the essential elements must be used.
Literary elements are the universal building blocks of a literary piece – a writer cannot create a literary work without them. Narrative stories require different literary elements than poetry (and elements will also vary depending on the structure of the poem); however, each set of elements can range in both effectiveness and creativity.
For the sake of elementary age students, the most common literary elements for a narrative story are:
Tone and Mood
Point of View
Regardless of the intentionality and creativity used in employing these elements, their presence is required for a piece of writing to function as a story.
If literary elements are the necessary tools and supplies needed to create a painting or sculpture, then literary techniques are the talent and creative techniques utilized by the artist to add things like complexity, depth, intrigue, and emphasis. While artistic techniques aren’t necessary to create a work of art in its basic form, they are certainly valuable and can be necessary if the author has any purpose or goal for the piece of art.
Literary techniques, when used intentionally and effectively, can improve writing both artistically and functionally, allowing the reader to better comprehend, connect with, and appreciate a story. While they are not needed for a story to be a story, unlike literary elements, they can be crucial to the complexity and depth of a story.
Figurative language, for example, includes specific literary techniques that present words or phrases in such a way that they deviate from their literal meanings for the purpose of adding depth through layers of meaning. While all figurative language devices are literary techniques, not all literary techniques are figurative language! Flashback and foreshadowing, for example, are literary techniques that are not considered figurative language, while simile and metaphor, on the other hand, are.
Here are some of the most common literary techniques found in children’s literature:
While Common Core is relatively vague when it comes to specific literary techniques and figurative language devices, my belief is that if the technique is present in the work, and if my students are capable of grasping the concept, then I’m discussing it!
1. Literary devices, everything used to create a literary piece (or work of art), from the essential elements (supplies and tools) to the techniques (creativity), can be split into two categories: Literary Elements and Literary Techniques.
2. Literary elements are the essential building blocks that work together to create and tell the story (the artist’s tools and supplies), without which the story would be incomplete. (Plot, Structure, Characters, Setting, Theme, etc.)
3. Literary techniques are the intentional, but not required, creative devices (or artist’s creative techniques) used to enhance the writing for added depth, complexity, beauty, or meaning. (Metaphors, Personification, Allusions, Oxymorons, Flashbacks, etc.)
4. Figurative language involves any literary technique that is employed to add depth and complexity by veering away from literal meanings. All figurative language devices are literary techniques, but not all literary techniques are figurative language devices.
I hope you found this article useful! If you have anything to add, or any tips or tricks for understanding or teaching these concepts, I'd love to hear 'em!
Additionally, I’ve created the following resources to help you engage your students with these concepts. Check them out!