Allusions, while important to helping readers understand themes and characters on a deeper level, can sometimes be hard for students to grasp. Some allusions are often remote to the modern student’s knowledge cache, who might not necessarily know many ancient Greek or Roman references. In addition, many allusions are religious or culturally-specific, and this can often alienate students of different cultural or religious backgrounds. However, it is important to point out these allusions, explain their significance, and then analyze how their meaning enhances our understanding of the point the author is trying to make.
Allusions are references to well-known
Many authors utilize the titles of their works to be their allusive references; poetry also utilizes allusions to enhance themes and evoke emotions. They can also be used to establish mood, setting, and significance. Allusions are not just limited to literature: they can be found in music, TV, movies, and art. Some common allusion examples students might be able to recognize include:
“Love Story” by Taylor Swift has an allusion to Romeo and Juliet.
An episode of The Walking Dead features a scene very much like when George tells Lennie to focus on his dream of owning rabbits on their own farm while he prepares to shoot him in John Steinbeck’s novel Of Mice and Men.
The Disney classic The Little Mermaid features a mermaid with a beautiful voice who lures Prince Eric with the sound of her song, a clear reference to the beautiful, but dangerous, sirens of mythological lore.
Michelangelo’s well-known statue “David” depicts the Biblical hero, King David, who slew the giant Goliath with a stone and a slingshot.
The show and movie Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles features turtles with the names of the famous Italian artists Donatello, Michelangelo, Leonardo, and Raphael.
Although this activity can be used for multiple grade levels, below are Common Core State Standards for Grades 11-12. Please see your Common Core State Standards for the correct grade-appropriate strands.
ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.1: Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text, including determining where the text leaves matters uncertain
ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.4: Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in the text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone, including words with multiple meanings or language that is particularly fresh, engaging, or beautiful. (Include Shakespeare as well as other authors.)
ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.9: Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research
One challenge many students face is keeping track of the many literary allusions they come across in a work, including their meanings and how the allusions enhance the work as a whole. A great and easy way to streamline this process is by having students keep track of the allusions in a visual and descriptive way using storyboards! Using the example and template below, have students track the allusions and their context in the work, and then after researching or class discussions, have them integrate a new cell that explains how that allusion enhances the meaning or the events of the work.
| Proficient |
| Emerging |
| Beginning |
The allusion and its depiction are historically or factually accurate. The quote which contains the allusion is included, or context is given for the quote's place in a brief summary.
The allusion and its depiction may be slightly inaccurate historically or factually. The quote may be missing or no context is given.
The allusion and its depiction have serious errors in accuracy. The quote and/or context are missing, or there is no description at all.
How It Enhances Meaning
The allusion's connection to the work is accurate and thoughtful, with meaningful commentary provided to accompany the scene.
The allusion's connection to the work is slightly inaccurate, or only partially described. The commentary may be too limited.
The allusion's connection to the work has serious errors in accuracy. The commentary may also be missing or incomplete.
The art chosen to depict the scenes are historically appropriate to both the allusion and to the work of literature. Time and care is taken to ensure that the scenes are neat, eye-catching, and creative.
The art chosen to depict the scenes should be historically appropriate, but there may be some liberties taken that distract from the assignment. Scene constructions are neat, and meet basic expectations.
The art chosen to depict the scenes are historically inappropriate. Scene constructions are messy and may create some confusion, or may be too limited.
Ideas are organized. There are few or no grammatical, mechanical, or spelling errors.
Ideas are mostly organized. There are some grammatical, mechanical, or spelling errors.
Ideas may be disorganized or misplaced. Lack of control over grammar, mechanics, and spelling reflect a lack of proofreading.