Stylistic Devices

Author: Jill Torrey Emmons

Time: 2 class periods
15 minutes
Materials: Copies of the poem “The Wreck of the Hesperus” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (see teacher’s guide as well), handout “Hurricane Formation” by Sofia Santana.


Students have now had a chance to briefly explore several types of literary devices, including figurative language and plot elements. In this lesson, students will continue to practice identifying these techniques and others in the poem “The Wreck of the Hesperus” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Students will first review figurative terms and stylistic devices, defining them according to their notes, knowledge, and other resources. Then, the class will read and analyze the poem in order to reveal how the author is using these devices to achieve a dramatic mood. Students will also examine the weather conditions presented in Longfellow’s poem and use this knowledge to envision the setting, analyzing whether or not Longfellow correctly characterizes this winter storm.

Purpose: The purpose of this lesson is for students to continue exploring how authors use literary devices to construct meaningful and moving texts.

Students will be able to:
1. Define given literary terms, such as metaphor, simile, imagery, personification, symbolism, etc.
2. Identify the use of literary elements in a given text.
3. Interpret weather conditions from textual clues and recreate setting.

National English Education Standard
Standard 6: Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and non-print texts.

Teacher Background
The instructor should read and analyze the poem used in this lesson before presenting it to the class. He/she should be able to identify various literary elements in the text and explain what purpose they serve in the poem. Teachers should also have a firm grasp of literary elements in general, specifically the following terms:

  • Alliteration (the repetition of initial consonants: “What a wonderful way to wash the windows”)
  • Assonance (the repetition of vowel sounds: “The mule told you the truth”)
  • Consonance (the repetition of consonants: “The dog waggled its goofy tail”
  • Rhyme (the pairing of words that sound the same)
  • Onomatopoeia (words which sound like their meaning: snap, bang, crack)

Related and Resource Websites
Wreck of the Hesperus http://www.blupete.com/Literature/Poetry/Wreck.htm
Biographical Info on Longfellow http://www.auburn.edu/~vestmon/longfellow_bio.html
Literary Elements http://www.cas.usf.edu/lis/lis6585/class/litelem.html



Day 1
1. Begin class with a review of the figurative language terms learned the previous day (post this on the board):

  • Define the following literary terms: metaphor, simile, personification, allusion, symbolism, imagery, rhyme, and hyperbole.

Students may use notes from the previous lesson, look up terms in a reference text book, or confer with other classmates if necessary. At this point, it is likely that students still do not have a firm grasp of these terms and their definitions. Give the class sufficient time to define each word, about 5-10 minutes, and then review the correct definitions with students. Allow the class to make corrections as necessary, and keep these notes for use with today’s activity.

2. Explain to the class that they are going to be reading about a fictitious disaster at sea, written by the American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. You may wish to give the class some background information on this author (see websites) to place the poem in historical context. Tell the students that as they read and analyze the poem, they will be looking for elements of figurative language as well as other stylistic devices which the author uses to create a more realistic, compelling poem. There are a variety of stylistic devices which authors use to create powerful texts, which include figurative language. Some of these which we will explore today are: alliteration, consonance, assonance, onomatopoeia, and rhyme. You do not need to define these terms at this time, but rather allow the students to assemble their own definitions as they encounter examples of them in the text.

3. Read Longfellow’s poem “The Wreck of the Hesperus” aloud, or have one or more students do a dramatic reading of the work. Encourage the students to use lots of emotion and emphasis in the reading of the poem for dramatic effect. Instruct the rest of the class to follow along as the poem is read aloud. Once the poem is read through one time, have the class write down briefly what the poem is about and how it made them feel. Allow about 5 minutes for this. Then, take a closer look at the first half of the poem. Read this section stanza by stanza, identifying the figurative language and other stylistic devices used by Longfellow. Ask the students to underline any examples of these, and to explain how these devices enhance the poem. When the class reads examples of stylistic devices which the students are unfamiliar with, help them to define them by looking at the text. This process of poem analysis should be done as a whole class, with the teacher guiding the conversation.

Day 2
1. Today the students will analyze the second half of the poem “The Wreck of the Hesperus” in groups, preparing to do literary analysis on their own in following lessons. At the beginning of class, review the definitions of the stylistic devices covered the previous day: alliteration, assonance, consonance, onomatopoeia, and rhyme. Have these terms written on the board for students to define (starter activity). As before, students may use reference books, their notes, and consult each other to construct these definitions. After about 10 minutes, review these definitions and make corrections as necessary.

2. Explain to the students that they will be working in groups to continue analyzing the second half of Longfellow’s poem. Divide the class into groups of 3-4, or pairs if you desire, and have the class carefully read again the rest of the poem. Students should underline and identify as many instances of figurative language and stylistic devices as they can find. Give the class about 15-10 minutes to complete this process. When the class is finished, regroup and discuss their analysis of the second half of the poem. Discuss the ways in which Longfellow’s poem is enhanced by the use of these language devices. Tell the students to be as specific as they can be in their explanations (they may do this in discussion or in writing).

3. Explain to the class that Longfellow has included many details concerning the weather in this poem. What is the purpose or effect of including so many details? Have students identify all the references to weather in the poem by circling them. Students should notice the mention of temperature, wind conditions, snow, ice, waves, fog, and a hurricane. Ask the students to envision and describe the storm that caused the Hesperus to sink. Have the class write a brief explanation of how Longfellow’s description of the weather conditions in the poem helps to establish the setting. Allow about 10 minutes for this writing activity.

Have the class investigate what type of storm is described in Longfellow’s poem. The captain mentions a “hurricane”, but is this really the type of storm described in the poem? Distribute the handout “Hurricane Formation” to the class, and allow them about 5 minutes to read this 1 page article. Then, have students refer back to the information in the poem to determine if what Longfellow describes seems like a true hurricane or not. Students may write their conclusions and evidence in a short comparative analysis.

Closure activity may be assigned for homework if there is insufficient class time.

Embedded Assessment
Students should be assessed through discussion, group work, written assignments, and notes to see if they can define and identify figurative language and stylistic devices used in the text. Students should also be able to begin to explain how these devices enhance the work itself.


PULSE is a project of the Community Outreach and Education Program of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center and is funded by:

NIH/NCRR award #16260-01A1
The Community Outreach and Education Program is part of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center: an NIEHS Award


Supported by NIEHS grant # ES06694

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Last update: November 10, 2009
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