Least Tern > English Classroom

Literary Terms for English

Square_Maze310.gif (122 bytes)

This guide was originally prepared for a grade 6 laptop English class. It is meant to be introductory in nature and relaxed in language. Any poetry anthology or literary survey text would provide a context for the terms. There is a good handbook/guide to other literary devices at this Lewis Carroll site and an excellent glossary of poetic devices at the University of Toronto. John McIlvain has written a guide to Introductory Poetry Terms with many poems included in full-text.

Literary Forms | Techniques of the Writer or Storyteller

Figurative Language | A Literary Vocabulary | Terms Specific to Poetry

Square_Maze310.gif (122 bytes)

Literary Forms (fiction) - many novels are written in more than one form, and there are many more forms than we will study in English 6. This is a beginner's sampling.

  1. Historical fiction - a "made up" story which has as setting a specific and recognizable historical time period which could not have been during the author's lifetime. These novels and stories often include characters and places which are historically accurate, and many include historical documents as well. Examples of historical fiction are: Dragonwings, The Whipping Boy, Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver.

  2. Documentary fiction - a "made up" story which uses a collage of documents, in addition to dialogue and narration, to help to tell the story. Some documentary fiction you will read as an adult uses actual news stories, letters, diaries, etc., but the story is the author's invention. Example: Nothing But the Truth.

  3. Science fiction - originally, a story which used the science of the future as a major element of plot or setting. This meaning has been stretched to include all future or utopian, time travel, space, alien contact, and dimension travel stories, as well as to include some elements of fantasy.  Examples: A Wrinkle in Time, The Giver, many stories by author Ray Bradbury.

  4. Folklore, folk tale, fairy tale - originally "oral tradition stories,"  memorized and passed from person to person through the telling, these tend to have messages for the listener to decipher and definite similarities in plot, characters, and settings. You study these stories in Lower School. In Middle School, you need to remember them and watch for "folklore" elements to appear in your reading. Examples of books rich in folklore references: The 13 Clocks, The Magic Circle, Haroun, The Other Side of Silence.

  5. Realistic Fiction - novels and stories which are "real" in that they take place in a time and place like a present, or recent past, time and place, have plots which are possible, and have characters which are believable as real people. Examples: Hatchet, Shabanu.

  6. Fantasy - fantasy novels and stories cover a wide range of "real-unreal" plots, characters and settings. Some identifying characteristics are: animals as characters, magical events, imaginary beings as characters. Fantasies often involve a search or quest of some type and ask the reader to temporarily believe in the possibility of events and characters.  Examples: Alice in Wonderland, The Story of the Amulet, The Wizard of Earthsea, The Hobbit, Watership Down.

  7. Mystery - a mystery novel contains a puzzle and challenges the reader to join the detective character who eventually solves the puzzle. Collecting clues is a vital skill for mystery readers. Examples: The House of Dies Drear, The Westing Game, The Hound of the Baskervilles.

Techniques of the Writer or Story Teller

Figurative Language - In general, this is a way of using words to make imaginative connections in the reader's "inner eye." These connections can be called images. As you learn to recognize and appreciate figurative language, your appreciation and ability to actively read good writing will increase. These are the types of figurative language on which we will concentrate this year:

Literary Vocabulary

Terms more specific to the way poets use words: see also John McIlvain's Introductory Poetry Terms

Least Tern

Elizabeth Sky-McIlvain 3/16/04