3 Reasons Why You Should be Teaching Allusions

As a high school English teacher, I'm always looking for ways to engage my students and make them enthusiastic about literature, and I’m willing to bet that we have that in common. We recognize the importance of developing our students' reading and cultural literacy skills, but also wonder about the best way to get them engaged. While there are a myriad of options, one of my favorite ways to help students make connections and get them excited about what we’re reading is by teaching allusions. Allusions teach students about the world they live in, help them to better understand literature, and engage them in the process of critical thinking and reading.

So, if you’re still wondering if you want to invest the time to teach allusions, let me give you 3 reasons why you should:

1. Allusions teach Cultural Literacy:
Allusions help students to understand and appreciate literary references to historical events, myths, and classic works of literature. This helps them understand and connect with the greater cultural context of the text they are reading. But, there’s so much more to it than that! Knowing common allusions helps students to fit into society because they’ll be able to understand the greater context of what is being discussed.

While newspapers are no longer as common as they once were, Saturday morning comics and political cartoons are always full of allusions to current and historical events. And memes? You have to understand the reference in order to find the meme funny.

Don’t believe me, yet? Turn on the television: SNL, Family Guy, The Simpsons–their content is heavily based on allusions. And to watch the opening monologue of any late-night talk show, one has to be familiar with current events and allusions. How about the radio? I’m willing to bet that you’ll find multiple allusions in songs by your favorite artists. Taylor Swift? Check out “This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things” or even "happiness." Do you recognize The Great Gatsby, anyone? (Actually, T Swift is an allusions queen) How about Mumford and Sons? “The Cave” alludes to both The Odyssey and Plato’s Allegory of the Cave!

2. Allusions help students understand literature:
Allusions can also help students to better understand literature. Allusions can be as simple as "the big bad wolf" in the fairy tale "Little Red Riding Hood," or they can be more complex: The character Frodo Baggins from JRR Tolkien's Lord of the Rings series has been compared to Odysseus from Homer's The Odyssey because both protagonists travel through dangerous lands on quests to get home. In William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, students might recognize the biblical allusions, including the book’s title to Beelzebub and Simon as a Christ figure When students understand allusions, they are able to fully grasp the meaning and intent of an author's work. Allusions can add layers of symbolism and metaphor that can be lost if they are not understood. For example, a reference to the story of Prometheus in a novel can convey a message about individuality and rebellion, but if students don’t know the Greek myth, they fail to grasp the bigger meaning of the text.

Allusions help students understand literature by making it relatable to their own lives and experiences--and not just their own lives but also those of people around them who may have different backgrounds than them or live in different parts of the world. Allusions also teach students about cultures other than their own by introducing them to characters and situations familiar yet foreign enough that they must think critically about what they're reading rather than simply accepting everything at face value. And lastly, allusions allow us all--even those who aren't native speakers of English--to connect with one another through shared knowledge about pop culture references like Star Wars characters or Game Of Thrones locations!

3. Allusions increase student engagement:
Allusions add an element of surprise and excitement to reading, making it more engaging and enjoyable for students. When we read Romeo and Juliet in my 9th grade English class, we treat looking for allusions in the text as a scavenger hunt. Not only do we find and identify the allusions (which tend to be heavily based in Greek mythology), we take time to look up the myth and discuss why Shakespeare would have chosen that allusion. What added knowledge does the allusion provide to the reader? How can we further dig into the character’s motives based on the author’s purpose?

This increased understanding often leads to a deeper appreciation of the text, leading students to be more excited about literature as they see the connections between different works and the world around them. Additionally, learning about allusions also helps students develop their critical thinking skills as they analyze the use of these references in the context of the story.

If you are like me and see the value in teaching allusions to your students, but are a little hesitant to invest the time, I’ve got just the thing to help you! My Allusion of the Week Resource - Volume 1. This resource provides you 15 weeks of allusions to explicitly teach to your students (I use these as Bell Work on “Myth Mondays,” which is just what I call every Monday in my English class).

TpT Allusion of the Week provides 15-weeks of Allusions to increase student reading comprehension and cultural literacy.

My students add the allusion to their English notebook’s table of contents, take the provided notes and examples, and then respond to the short writing prompt. 10 minutes of dedicated class time is all we spend on the week’s allusion, but as we see the references pop up in our lessons, we stop and discuss. Students are learning and are super excited to share when they see the allusion “in the wild.” 

 Would you like to try out a sample? Click here for Allusion #1 - Achilles' Heel to see for yourself.

Teaching common allusions in your English class can greatly benefit your students by expanding their cultural knowledge, improving their reading and writing skills, and engaging them in the material. I hope this helps!

My Favorite Formative Feedback Strategy for Teachers: StopLight Feedback With Google Forms

When I teach students to write essays, I like to be involved in all stages of the process, checking their work as we go so I can tell if they are getting the concepts or need more practice. While I love conferencing with students, timing does not always permit me to meet with them multiple times during a single unit. And though walking around peeking at their work is helpful, students work at different paces and I’m not always able to see what I need at that moment. So, what to do? One of my favorite strategies for quick feedback is Stoplight Feedback using the good old Google Form.

Let's get to it!

First, I set up my form to collect student names, class periods, and the piece of writing that I’m wanting to check. In this form, I was looking for their thesis statements. Then I post the form to our LMS.
Sample Google Form that asks for student name, class period, and thesis statement so teacher can collect formative data.

When students have completed their first thesis statement are ready for feedback, they enter their info on the Google Form.

To make this work effectively, I prepare ahead of time by organizing my form so that the student responses create a Google Sheet. Then, I hide the columns with student information (name, email, etc.).

This shows how to hide columns in a Google Form in order to protect student privacy while giving student formative feedback.

I click the SHARE button and change the access so that anyone with the link can view the sheet.

This shows how to share a Google Sheet so that students can see their thesis statement and get stoplight feedback.

Finally, I set up my form so that when students submit, they get a response that says: Thanks for submitting. “Copy the link and paste it into your browser for feedback: <link>.”

Showing how to change the submission message on a Google Form to a link that students can open for feedback.

By sharing the link this way, students who have not yet submitted can’t see the feedback sheet and won’t be able to copy someone else’s thesis statement (or whatever writing piece students are submitting). Once students do submit, all identifying information is hidden, so I don’t mind them seeing other student work.

Now, for the fun part. I am able to sit at my front table and give immediate feedback, all while being available to the whole class for questions. I have the Google Sheet open on my computer, and when responses come in, I read the statement, type suggestions, and then color-code the cell. I like to use stop-light feedback so students know immediately whether or not they are ready to move on: Green means that the thesis statement is acceptable, Yellow means that students are on the right track, but some changes are required, and Red means that the student needs to look at my suggestions and try again. Additionally, I bold any suggestions I make, so the student can see my thoughts right away. Students can submit again and again until they get Green feedback.

An example of Stoplight Formative Feedback for writing.
Notice the date - this was our first time writing thesis statements, so I was much more lenient with what I was green-lighting than I might ordinarily be.

Let me tell you, students LOVE this method, and often tell me that they’ve never had a teacher help them this way before. The fact that it’s immediate is highly motivating for students. They can look at the suggestions and try again right away. Additionally, once they’ve submitted once, they can see other student models and real-time suggestions, which helps them to improve their own writing.

A quick note, however. I have students type out their thesis statements on a Google Doc before submitting to the form. They copy and paste the statement onto the form, all while maintaining their original. Then, as they get suggestions from me, I have them copy and paste again under the original and make the updates on that one (and so on and so on). This keeps their changes visible to them right on their Doc, letting them see the progression of their thoughts and how they are working to improve each time.
An example of student progression of thesis statement writing with revisions.

I hope you try this out and love this strategy as much as I do. It’s a surefire way to see all parts of a student’s writing process early in the game while you can still help them improve rather than waiting until the essay is submitted. If you use this method, I’d love to hear how it goes for you!

Have a great day!