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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”

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.”

Template and Class Instructions

(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Activity", update the instructions on the Edit Tab of the assignment.)

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.

Lesson Plan Reference

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(You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)

Literary Elements Rubric
Create a storyboard that shows different literary elements from the story.
Proficient Emerging Beginning
Identification of Literary Elements
All literary elements are correctly identified.
Most literary elements are correctly identified.
Few literary elements are correctly identified.
Illustrations show attention to the details of the story and demonstrate connection to the literary elements.
Illustrations demonstrate connection to the literary elements.
Illustrations show little connection to the literary elements.
Description of Literary Elements
Descriptions clearly explain what the literary elements do to enhance the story.
Most descriptions tell what the literary elements do to enhance the story.
Descriptions are unrelated to the literary elements.
Spelling and Grammar
Spelling and grammar is mostly accurate. Mistakes do not get in the way of understanding.
Spelling is very inaccurate and hinders full understanding.
Text is very difficult to understand.

How to Utilize Interactive Activities to Teach 'Letter from Birmingham Jail' Literary Elements


Introducing the Literary Elements and Interactive Approach

Start the lesson by introducing the literary elements of alliteration, metaphor, allusion, imagery, parallelism, and personification. Explain their significance in enhancing the effectiveness of King's letter. Introduce the concept of interactive learning and how it will be applied to explore these elements in the text.


Group Exploration of Literary Elements

Organize the class into small groups, with each group assigned a specific literary element to explore in King’s letter. Provide each group with interactive activities such as matching exercises or sorting games, where they will identify examples of their element in the text. Encourage the groups to discuss King's use of these elements and their impact on his message.


Creation of Interactive Storyboards

Instruct each group to create an interactive storyboard that illustrates their assigned literary element within the context of the letter. Encourage them to be creative, using drawings, digital tools, or even movable parts for a tactile experience. The storyboards should accurately reflect how the literary element is used and its effect on King’s letter.


Group Presentations and Reflective Discussion

Have each group present their storyboard to the class, explaining the literary element they focused on and how they have depicted it. Following the presentations, lead a class discussion for students to reflect on what they learned from each group's work. Conclude the lesson by summarizing how these literary elements contribute to the power and persuasiveness of King’s "Letter from Birmingham Jail."

Frequently Asked Questions about Letter from Birmingham Jail Literary Elements

How does Martin Luther King Jr. use allusions in the letter, and what is their significance?

Martin Luther King Jr. strategically uses allusions in his "Letter from Birmingham Jail" to strengthen his arguments and connect his cause to broader historical, religious, and ethical contexts. By referencing figures like Socrates, Jesus, and Abraham Lincoln, as well as events and documents such as the Boston Tea Party and the Declaration of Independence, King situates the civil rights movement within a long tradition of justice and moral struggle. These allusions serve multiple purposes: they provide a sense of legitimacy and moral authority to his actions; create a parallel between the civil rights movement and revered figures and moments in history; and appeal to a wide audience by invoking shared cultural and religious values. King's allusions are not just rhetorical devices, but they also underscore his education, intelligence, and deep understanding of history and theology, thereby reinforcing the ethos of his argument.

How does King's writing style in the letter reflect the principles of the Civil Rights Movement?

The writing style of Martin Luther King Jr. in "Letter from Birmingham Jail" powerfully reflects the principles of the Civil Rights Movement. His language is both passionate and logical, embodying the movement's dedication to nonviolent protest and moral righteousness. King's style is assertive yet measured, exemplifying the discipline of nonviolent resistance. He employs a persuasive and inclusive tone, inviting his audience to understand and empathize with the struggle of African Americans. The narrative style of the letter, interweaving personal experiences with broader social critique, mirrors the civil rights strategy of personalizing the political to make the case for equality and justice. King's eloquent use of rhetoric, his reasoned arguments, and his moral appeals all serve to articulate the vision and values of the Civil Rights Movement – justice, equality, dignity, and nonviolent protest.

How can worksheets facilitate a deeper understanding of the letter's themes?

Worksheets can be a valuable tool in facilitating a deeper understanding of the themes in "Letter from Birmingham Jail." They can guide students through a structured exploration of the letter’s key concepts, such as justice, civil disobedience, morality, and the interconnectedness of society. Worksheets can include activities like text analysis, where students examine specific excerpts to understand how King develops his themes. Questions in the worksheets can prompt students to reflect on the letter's implications and how its themes relate to contemporary issues. Comparing and contrasting exercises can help students connect King’s ideas to other historical figures or movements, fostering a broader understanding of the letter's themes. Creative response sections in worksheets can also encourage students to articulate their interpretations and reactions to the letter, thereby engaging more deeply with its content. By breaking down complex ideas into manageable parts, worksheets can make the rich themes of King’s letter more accessible and meaningful to students.

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