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.

Allusion Definition:

Allusions are references to well-known

  • Events
  • People or Characters
  • Works of Art or Literature
  • Places
  • Religions

Allusions in Literature

Allusion Examples

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.

  • The Fault in Our Stars by John Green takes its title from a line in Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Julius Caesar.

  • 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.

Example Project for Tracking Allusions

Common Core State Standards

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.

Example Rubric

Image Attributions
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