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Using Literary Devices

Grades: 4-6
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Lesson Summary


Students watch a video segment about the legend of "John Henry" and recognize realistic and non-realistic aspects of the story presented in the video. Students then identify and explain examples of personification and hyperbole.

Why is this an important concept?

As students develop reading comprehension skills, it’s important for them to discern realistic as well as non-realistic elements whether the story is fictional or non-fictional. Furthermore, being able to identify examples of personification as well as hyperbole as figures of speech are important tools students can then use in their writing to expand and enhance their descriptions of characters, places and inanimate objects.

Grade Level:


Suggested Time


Media Resources


The Lesson

Part I: Learning Activity

1. Prior to watching the "John Henry" video segment, ask students if they are familiar with the terms hyperbole and personification. Provide definitions and examples, and discuss:

  • Hyperbole: a figure of speech which uses exaggerated statements.
  • Personification: a figure of speech where inanimate objects are given human characteristics and/or traits.

2. Tell students they will watch the John Henry segment twice. For the first viewing, tell students to listen for things the narrator says that could be examples of exaggeration or hyperbole. Play the video.

3. Next, ask students for examples and record their answers.

4. Tell students they will watch the video segment again but this time they should focus and listen for when the narrator describes an ordinary object as having human qualities, or personification.

5. Take student responses and record on the board.

6. Distribute the John Henry Literary Devices handout. As a class, ask students to identify the examples of hyperbole and personification on the first line of the handout. Ask students to underline examples of hyperbole and circle examples of personification on their handouts.

7. Ask students to share their answers in a teacher-guided question and answer session.

For students who need additional guidance:
  • Provide examples of personification and hyperbole - give specific examples of each.
  • Watch the John Henry video segment multiple times.
  • As a group, identify one example each of personification and hyperbole, and write these examples on the board or onto a transparency.
  • Provide additional time for students to complete the John Henry Hyperbole and Personification handout and the John Henry Graphic Organizer handout.

Part II: Assessment

1. Distribute theJohn Henry Hyperbole Chart handout. Tell students to use their John Henry Hyperbole and Personification handout to help them complete their organizer. Ask students to select either examples of hyperbole or personification and record them on the chart in the first column. Next, explain the author’s meaning in the second column.

2. The John Henry Hyperbole and Personification handout and the John Henry Graphic Organizer handout can be placed in a student’s portfolio to demonstrate proficiency. 

Project Credits

Contributor: WNET-grayscale

Funder: U.S. Department of Education-grayscale