There are many high school English literary terms that students are introduced to early in their academic careers. Many of these terms are repeated through each successive year. Students benefit by learning these terms when they see the different types of figurative language repeated on television, in the movies, and in their favorite books.
Flashback is a literary device that allows shows the audience or reader events that occurred in the past that have important bearing on the story. Often, flashbacks give important insights into the characters or events happening in the later timeline. Flashbacks can be achieved through dream sequences, recollection of memories, or stories told by other characters.
Genre is type of story that has specific characteristics which makes it similar to other stories of the same type. However, genres are dynamic and can change over time. Some examples of genres include westerns, action, adventure, comedy, satire, mystery, historical, documentary, and horror.
Irony can be categorized as either verbal, situational, or dramatic.
Parody satirizes another literary work, author of the work, or any of the themes presented. Often a parody is a duplicate of the original work but with exaggerations of the characters or events to make them funnier than the original. The television show Saturday Night Live often parodies events that happen to celebrities or politicians or the personalities of the same people.
Satire is where an author makes fun of specific people, groups or some part of the larger society. One famous satire is “A Modest Proposal” by Jonathan Swift. In this essay, Swift satirizes the British for their treatment of the Irish by recommending that they literally eat the children since they have already taken everything else from the Irish.
Setting is the physical or emotional place of a story. Settings can be physical places such as buildings or locations or they can be abstract, such as a time period or historical social setting. In “Araby,” the short story by James Joyce, the social and religious constraints of the society are as much a part of the setting as the house where the main character lives and the carnival that he attends.
Sonnet is a type of poem, more commonly written in the past, that has a specific rhyme scheme and poetic meter. Each sonnet has exactly fourteen lines; although, the rhyme scheme can alter depending up on the type of sonnet being written.
Subplot is the story within the story. These stories often have connections to the larger plot. Shakespeare’s works often have subplots running parallel to the story. For example, Ophelia’s decent into madness throughout “Hamlet” is a subplot to the main story of Hamlet trying to expose his uncle as his father’s murderer.
Symbols are physical objects in a story intentionally repeated so that they come to represent some larger, abstract concepts. For example, a flag can represent freedom. Some symbols are universally known such as a skull and crossbones to symbolize danger. However, some writers construct their own symbols through use in the writing. One example can be found in Moby Dick by Herman Melville. White is a universally recognized symbol of purity or innocence, but Melville uses white to symbolize evil.
Tone is an abstract concept used to describe the writer’s feelings toward his or her subject. This comes through based upon the types of words chosen that sets the mood for the piece. Tone can be happy or sad, optimistic or pessimistic, formal or informal, sarcastic or serious. For example, two writers may write in the same genre but have completely different tones to their works. (The mood of a story refers to how a reader feels about the story.)
These terms can be presented in the form of a literary terms worksheet. Poetry and prose have many more literary terms to choose from and to add to a worksheet. In addition, different genres also make up part of the different literary terms. Students and teachers can use these terms as a starting point for further investigation.