Are you looking for high-powered vocabulary words to take your ELA analysis to the next level? Pop these literary devices examples and definitions of terms into your next English Language Arts class, and you’ll make your class gape in awe.
I’ve been an ELA teacher for 18 years and can vouch for the wonder of these words. Every one of the literary terms, devices, and elements below is highly useful in discussing texts, film — and even life. Click through to see each full lesson — from “Types of Conflict” to “Suspense,” use them with love, and enjoy!
Literary Devices and Terms List
Looking for the most useful and interesting literary devices and terms (with definitions and examples) for English Language Arts (ELA) learning? Here you go!
Rather than saying something literally (meaning exactly what the words say), try spicing up your writing -- and understanding how others add poetic flair to their words -- through figurative language like simile, metaphor, personification, hyperbole, and more! See examples here.
The literary device "irony" is one of the most difficult to understand, but one of the most fulfilling and enjoyable once you get it. Something is ironic when there is a contrast between what is said or done, and the truth, or what is expected. Read on to learn about the three types of irony, and why they're used.
Theme (Central Idea):
The concept of "theme" is a profoundly important one in ELA, and is frequently confused with "topic." Learn the difference here, along with examples of how to correctly discern the theme of a text.
Tone vs. Mood:
The literary terms "tone" and "mood" are frequently confused. They're similar, but have a key difference. "Tone" refers to how a person or author is speaking (focusing on how THEY are feeling), while "Mood" is about the effect of the piece on the reader or viewer (YOU). See more here.
Types of Conflict:
Conflict is defined as the central problem or struggle in a work of literature, and it is essential to have in order to make a story interesting. In fact, there are several types of conflict, including internal vs. external and more.
The meaning of "suspense" is that feeling of excited, nervous tension or anticipation when you're forced to wait before learning what happens next. Suspense is an essential literary device, because without it, books and movies simply aren't exciting. Why would you keep reading or watching if you already knew everything that was going to happen right away?
The literary term "foreshadowing" refers to hints of what is to come in the future. See examples of how this word can apply to a literary context, as well as our real lives.
What does it mean to "juxtapose" or use juxtaposition? It's all about contrasting two things next to each other. Click to see which this is so exciting and powerful, both in literature and in everyday situations.
The term "context" refers to what surrounds something: the time, place, situation, etc. and it is essential to understand when doing literary analysis or looking at art. See examples illustrated here to better understand this key concept, including immediate vs. broader context meaning.
Figurative language time! The name for "sound effect words" like "POP! BANG! WOOF!" is "Onomatopoeia." See more examples of this delightful literary device here, along with tips on how to pronounce and spell the challenging word.
Life and literature are filled with liminal spaces: the in-between time or place when one state of being has ended but the next has not yet begun. Read an in-depth analysis of this useful vocabulary word and concept here.
One of the most important concepts in learning and life is how to use metacognitive strategies: thinking about our thinking in order to see what tactics are working, and which need to be altered or attempted. Read a powerful example here, along with instructions for how to implement this in your life.
Which Literary Devices are YOUR Faves?
Looking through this list of literary terms examples and definitions, which do you most enjoy? I have several favorites. My first is the “Types of Irony” lesson, because as a teacher, I could never find resources that clearly explained the definition and uses of the term — until now.
Figurative language is always a big favorite when I teach the lesson with my classes (who doesn’t love a good simile comparison?) and “Topic vs. Theme” and “Tone vs. Mood” are two of the most popular ones on this whole site with teachers looking for free English Language Arts lesson resources.
As you can see, this vocabulary glossary and literary terms list of examples and definitions is just a start, so let me know which other wonderful ELA words you’d like to see illustrated and explained. Do share!
The author and artist, Lillie Marshall, is a National Board Certified Teacher of English who has been a public school educator since 2003, and an experienced Reiki practitioner since 2018. All art on this site is original and hand-drawn by Lillie. She launched DrawingsOf.com Educational Cartoons in 2020, building upon the success of her other two sites, AroundTheWorldL.com (established 2009) and TeachingTraveling.com (founded 2010). Subscribe to Lillie’s monthly newsletter, and follow @WorldLillie on social media to stay connected!
Saturday 29th of May 2021
Hi! I love your site. Do you have any cartoons for suspense, irony, and/or allusion? Thank you, Melissa
Saturday 15th of October 2022
I've just finished illustrating and adding irony to this list. Thanks for the suggestion!
Monday 3rd of October 2022
Melissa, Suspense is now up! https://drawingsof.com/suspense-meaning-examples-literature/ The others are coming soon. Thanks for your requests!
Saturday 29th of May 2021
Ahh, brilliant!!! I will add these to the list. Thanks so much for the suggestions, and thank you for your kind words.