K-12 Teaching and Learning From the UNC School of Education

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Learning outcomes

In the first part of the lesson, students will be exposed to imagery in short literature as used to express simple symbols & themes. In part two, students will practice recognizing these concepts while examining the larger concepts of literary allusion and reference at the same time.

Teacher planning

Time required for lesson

90 Minutes


Technology resources

CD player or another device to play recordings


Students should make a short list of things that inspire them, and then briefly discuss or exchange them. The teacher should use random examples to point out the ways in which different people are affected/inspired by different things, and how the same things can inspire people differently.


  1. The teacher will begin by presenting a short 10 minute review of the life of Brian Wilson, the singer/producer behind the 1960s success of the singing group the Beach Boys. Information for this presentation can be found at Brian Wilson - Official Web Site as well as many other sources. The teacher may want to use photographs as well. The focus should be on the similarities to the things that inspired Brian Wilson to write (girls, cars, surfing, the beach, being alone) and the things that affect the lives of the students. The teacher should also focus on the way Brian Wilson used creativity as a problem-solving method in his life, and the way he suffered through mental illness and depression when his creative period ended, including the time he spent as a recluse in his bed.
  2. Students should read the lyrics of the song “Fun, Fun, Fun” out loud and then the teacher should lead them on a line by line discussion of the simple imagery in the song. Although the focus should be on images (symbols like cars) to express simple themes (like freedom) the teacher can, of course, also touch on alliteration, conflict, plot progression, and rhythm.
  3. The students should listen to and then comment on the Beach Boys song “Fun, Fun, Fun.”
  4. The students should be handed the lyrics of the 1990s Barenaked Ladies song “Brian Wilson” by Steven Page. The teacher may want to include a short vocabulary sheet explaining such minor allusions as “creative drought,” “Pavlov’s dog,” and “pedagogue.” The teacher should lead the students through a line by line reading of the song focusing on the way that simple allusions to Brian Wilson and his life/troubles help to relate the singer’s more contemporary problems and issues to the reader. The teacher can directly focus on the use of allusion to explain larger concepts and to make complex issues more accessible as simple themes and universal truths. Now that the students have the background to understand the allusions they can focus on the concepts! The teacher can, of course, move the discussion at points to a comparison of literary methods (alliteration, repetition, similes, etc.) between the songs.
  5. The students should listen to and then comment on the Steven Page song “Brian Wilson.”
  6. As a short activity after the lesson the teacher should ask each student to compose a short literary work (like a 10-line poem) on something that inspires them, and to try and include a metaphor, simile, or allusion.


A short multiple choice assessment, modeled on the ENG I EOC should be given testing comprehension and application of the following terms & concepts: allusion, metaphor, alliteration, theme, repetition, rhythm, simile, plot, conflict, imagery. The literary work given should not be either of the songs chosen but should be very similar: short pieces of rhyming literature. Other songs by either writer could be used for this.

Supplemental information


The point of this lesson, as well as the ease of use once the materials are in place, is much more apparent if the teacher is FIRST familiar with the life history of Brian Wilson and the works associated with this lesson. This is a very useful exercise when first attempting to get low-level ENG I students to not only understand simple literary terms and techniques but to apply them in response to monitored reading and multiple choice questions.

  • Common Core State Standards
    • English Language Arts (2010)
      • Reading: Literature

        • Grade 9-10
          • 9-10.RL.4 Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in the text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the cumulative impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone (e.g., how the language evokes a sense of time and...
          • 9-10.RL.7 Analyze the representation of a subject or a key scene in two different artistic mediums, including what is emphasized or absent in each treatment (e.g., Auden’s “Musée des Beaux Arts” and Breughel’s Landscape with the Fall of Icarus).

North Carolina curriculum alignment

English Language Arts (2004)

Grade 9

  • Goal 1: The learner will express reflections and reactions to print and non-print text and personal experiences.
    • Objective 1.02: Respond reflectively (individually and in groups) to a variety of expressive texts (e.g., memoirs, vignettes, narratives, diaries, monologues, personal responses) in a way that offers an audience:
      • an understanding of the student's personal reaction to the text.
      • a sense of how the reaction results from a careful consideration of the text.
      • an awareness of how personal and cultural influences affect the response.
  • Goal 5: The learner will demonstrate understanding of various literary genres, concepts, elements, and terms.
    • Objective 5.01: Read and analyze various literary works by:
      • using effective reading strategies for preparation, engagement, reflection.
      • recognizing and analyzing the characteristics of literary genres, including fiction (e.g., myths, legends, short stories, novels), non-fiction (e.g., essays, biographies, autobiographies, historical documents), poetry (e.g., epics, sonnets, lyric poetry, ballads) and drama (e.g., tragedy, comedy).
      • interpreting literary devices such as allusion, symbolism, figurative language, flashback, dramatic irony, dialogue, diction, and imagery.
      • understanding the importance of tone, mood, diction, and style.
      • explaining and interpreting archetypal characters, themes, settings.
      • explaining how point of view is developed and its effect on literary texts.
      • determining a character's traits from his/her actions, speech, appearance, or what others say about him or her.
      • explaining how the writer creates character, setting, motif, theme, and other elements.
      • making thematic connections among literary texts and media and contemporary issues.
      • understanding the importance of cultural and historical impact on literary texts.
      • producing creative responses that follow the conventions of a specific genre and using appropriate literary devices for that genre.