Tips to Help Your Kids Use Symbolism in Writing

February 27, 2020

Jeannette Tuionetoa

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One of my favorite elements of literature is symbolism. Long ago I was an English educator for secondary students. I loved working with teenagers and loved English literature, so that was my preferred career path after finishing my undergraduate degree. Symbolism is one of the beauties in literature I loved sharing with my students. Here are some tips to help your kids use symbolism in writing at home.

Tips to Help Your Kids Use Symbolism in Writing

Symbolism is the idea of using a symbol to represent an idea, meaning, or the quality of something. The symbols can be entirely detached from the literal meaning of the symbols.

The reason why I love symbolism so much, in the context of teaching middle school to high school kids, and now in primary school at home, is that it gets kids thinking critically. The object of symbolism isn’t fed to them like a fact or math problem is.

When kids read a book with symbolism or learn to write using symbolism, they are allowed to give abstract meaning to something concrete, use description to explain a concrete “something.” Also, symbolism is largely up to interpretation, perception, and imagination.

In the idea of symbolism, the connections made in the text to our minds is a mystery for us to discover. Seeing my students blurt out ideas and questions about the symbols in texts was truly rewarding.

My very first teaching experience was an internship at a pretty tough middle school. We first tackled a largely symbolic read called The Giver by Lois Lowry. I had never read it before this, which made me read it quickly (twice), dissect it, and all while realizing what a fantastic read it actually was. 

Finding symbolism.

There is an apple in the text, and as the main character Jonas followed the path of the apple with his eyes, the apple “changed.” I remember clear as day when discussing it with the students. They had so many ideas of what the apple represented. One was life, and how life changes unexpectedly as the apple changed. These students were evaluating symbolism in early middle school when I hadn’t even learned it until college.

Kids are impressive. When teaching symbolism, you will see how they make connections to develop ideas or discover the true meaning of texts. Once they can understand what symbolism is, you will see how they improve their writing assignments. My students’ imaginations soared and were captured in the writing exercises I gave them.

Here are my tips to help your kids use symbolism in writing:

1. For young learners, mostly use games – of course.

Begin with vocabulary to help them learn what symbols are (i.e., symbols, image, visuals, metaphors, etc.) Show them visual representations of symbols like a heart, a peace sign, or what green means in a traffic light.

Then play games! You can find a few ideas here:

Introduce Symbolism with a Game | The Art of Education

Playing games for comprehension is a great way to introduce symbolism in pre-writing to your kids.

2. Use objects and colors for your children to expand in their writing.

Whether it be in their books or in sentences, the objects and colors allow your kids to expound on what they represent.

Here are examples of sentences using object or color:

The woman’s diamond ring shined brightly on her finger.

If the object of the sentence is the diamond ring, then let kids write down what a ring can possibly be a symbol for. They may write things like marriage or wealth.

The blue ocean was calm.

If the object is the blue ocean, then your kids may come up with the idea that the blue ocean can symbolize good weather, swimming, peace, etc. Check out some resources for practice below:

Symbolism Worksheets and Examples | KidsKonnect

(FREE) Teaching Symbolism in Literature With Objects & Colors – Charts w/Answer Keys | Lovin Lit

Teaching Symbolism Via Street Art: FREE CLOZE Notes! | Michael Rossi

3. Introduce literature that uses symbolism, so children grasp the concept.

Even at an early age, children can understand what symbolism is. Check out some of these books that illustrate the idea of symbolism for kids.

Here are a few picture books with symbolism to explore with your kids.

The Other SideThe Other SideThe Giving TreeThe Giving TreeThose Shoes a children\'s book coverThose ShoesThe Lorax (Classic Seuss)The Lorax (Classic Seuss)This Is the Rope: A Story from the Great MigrationThis Is the Rope: A Story from the Great MigrationRed Kite, Blue KiteRed Kite, Blue Kite


Here are chapter books full of symbolism to enrich your child’s imagination to influence writing.

The Giver (1) (Giver Quartet)The Giver (1) (Giver Quartet)The Scarlet IbisThe Scarlet IbisThe Lottery (Tale Blazers)The Lottery (Tale Blazers)The Great GatsbyThe Great GatsbyLord of the FliesLord of the FliesThe Book Thief (Anniversary Edition)The Book Thief (Anniversary Edition)


Grab these resources to help your kids see the symbolism in the texts.

The Giver FREE Activity: Memory Transmission | Presto Plans

Understanding Symbolism FREE | Think Grow Giggle

Symbolism: Focus Lesson for ANY Novel | The SuperHERO Teacher

4. Choose a symbol and have kids practice symbolism in their writing.

Select or have your child select any symbol, whether it be religious, national, or cultural. They then can write a reflection paragraph about that symbol in three different ways: What the symbol actually means, what it would mean to them personally, and then what it could mean to someone else.

Find some examples and a FREE printable to go alongside your lessons below:

Examples of Symbolism in Writing |

Symbolism opens up freedom to writing that helps the mind explore beyond language. Just like a parable explains its meaning from context, symbolism in literature explains meaning from the context surrounding the symbol. Understanding symbolism improves how a child approaches reading as a whole.

Sometimes you will get the tricky questions when it comes to teaching symbolism. I, for sure, got those questions in a classroom of 25 students.

How do you know when a rope is just a rope? Or a tree, just a tree? Although you may not have a perfect answer for this wise question, think for a moment what that question means. It means that your child is thinking deeply about what an author is writing. That is a mom win!

Remind your kids that symbolism enhances their writing and reader’s experience. If you want to help your children improve their writing, even more, then check out these Tips to Teach Your Kids About Dramatic Elements in Literature. If your child likes writing, you won’t want to miss this article.

Tips to Help Your Kids Use Symbolism in Writing

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