Letter from Birmingham Jail Literary Elements

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Letter from a Birmingham Jail - Literary Elements

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Activity Overview


When teaching speeches and letters, it’s helpful to refresh or introduce students to literary elements that enhance rhetorical strategies. After reading “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”, ask your students to do a scavenger hunt using the storyboard creator. Give them the following six literary elements and have them create a storyboard that depicts and explains the use of each literary element in the letter: alliteration, metaphor, allusion, imagery, parallelism, personification.


Literary Elements King Uses in “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”

DESCRIPTION EXAMPLE
Alliteration Repetition of consonant sounds at the beginnings of words in a sentence or line “The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jetlike speed toward the goal of political independence, and we still creep at horse-and-buggy pace toward the gaining of a cup of coffee at a lunch counter.”
Metaphor An implied comparison between two things “But again I am thankful to God that some noble souls from the ranks of organized religion have broken loose from the paralyzing chains of conformity and joined us as active partners in the struggle for freedom.”
Allusion Brief and indirect reference to well-known person, place, thing or idea, usually of historical, cultural or literary significance “Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half-truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal…”
Imagery The use of descriptive or figurative language to create vivid mental imagery that appeals to the senses “But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate-filled policemen curse, kick, brutalize, and even kill your black brothers and sisters with impunity; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she cannot go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television...”
Parallelism A form of repetition in a sentence or thought that emphasizes an idea or deepens the reaction to the idea “...when you take a cross-country drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading ‘white’ and ‘colored’...”
Personification Giving human-like characteristics to non-human objects or abstract ideas “For years now I have heard the word ‘wait.’ It rings in the ear of every Negro with a piercing familiarity.”


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Student Instructions

Create a storyboard that shows five examples of literary elements in "Letter from a Birmingham Jail".


  1. Click "Start Assignment".
  2. Identify use of literary elements in the text.
  3. Put the type of literary element in the title box.
  4. Give an example from the text in the description box.
  5. Illustrate the example using using a combination of scenes, characters, and items.

Literary Element Spider Map Template

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