Teaching Allusion: Dealing with RL.8.9 and RL.9-10.9

The Common Core State Standards for literature that address the topic of allusion are a bit worrying for some teachers, and it's understandable as to why. This blog post provides seven ways to teach allusion that should help you successfully teach this literary device without too many complications!
There's a standard that should be awesome but seems to give me (and many others) pause:

RL.8.9 Analyze how a modern work of fiction draws on themes, patterns of events, or character types from myths, traditional stories, or religious works such as the Bible, including describing how the material is rendered new.

... and...

RL.9-10.9 Analyze how an author draws on and transforms source material in a specific work (e.g., how Shakespeare treats a theme or topic from Ovid or the Bible or how a later author draws on a play by Shakespeare)

...and I've heard a few reasons about why - hesitation to mention the Bible in a public school and hesitation with how long it would take to "do it right" being chief among them. (For example, we could very well do entire, huge, separate units on mythology around the world, right? How do you adequately give students enough background knowledge to pull of these standards?) 

If you're not sure if you have the time, comfort level, or resources for this standard, here are a few ways to weave it into your existing curriculum:

1. Use it in your independent reading program. 
Use this infographic from Epic Reads to guide you in choosing some new titles to recommend, and make a retelling part of your required independent reading program. (You're also welcome to check out my GoodReads shelves for fairytales and mythology books.)

2. Teach the Hero's Journey and other archetypes when you discuss plot and character. 
Don't stop at the Freytag plot pyramid! Use this killer Ted ED talk by Matthew Winkler to discuss how stories borrow plots (structure) from each other. 

3. Make a Theme Web. 
Assuming you have narrowed down what you and the class think that the theme of a novel is, make a web on the board asking them to identify OTHER books that also use that theme, and ask them to defend it in writing. 

4. Book talk the retellings of your class read. 
Does that classic novel have a retelling, parody, or modern version (in either book OR movie form?) Tell your class about it!

5. Give options when you teach symbolism. 
If your students are listing or defending possible symbols, make religious and/or cultural symbolism an option in addition to typical ones like weather and color. 

6. Bring in another expert's opinion.
The book How to Read Literature Like a Professor is used in my local high schools as required reading, but it could also be excerpted in short or long passages for middle school - especially the chapters about Shakespeare, politics, and the Bible. Treat it as close reading of non-fiction and ask students to relate it to the fiction being read!

7. Pose a "conspiracy theory" or "plagiarism". 
Secondary students LOVE a good debate and getting fired up about something bogus/unfair. Ask students...

  • Suzanne Collins totally could have read "The Most Dangerous Game". Did she copy off of that story when making the arena?
  • Some people think that there's religious symbolism in The Giver. Is that baloney, or not?
  • Does The Great Gatsby have anything to do with Cinderella? What about Romeo and Juliet?


The spirit of the standards is for students to analyze inter-text relationships and patterns over time, and these ideas are just a few to scratch the surface. 

1 comment

  1. This is so smart! What a great list of ideas. I also trace characters and themes through several texts. I teach Midsummer and The Knight's Tale, which both have Theseus, Duke of Athens, in them. We are currently tracing themes through King Arthur stories from Morte to Tennyson.
    Kovescence of the Mind

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