Teaching Literary Terms with the Book Out of the Dust

By Margo Dill

Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse is written in free verse and is historical fiction for children in upper elementary grades. You can teach some literary terms using this book.

Poetry Terms

Since Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse is a book written in free verse, you can teach many poetry terms with this book. Here are some of the literary terms in Out of the Dust:

  • Alliteration--Alliteration is when the author repeats the first sounds of a word over and over again in a sentence or line of poetry. For example, a tongue twister would be a perfect example of alliteration. After explaining alliteration to students and showing them examples, ask students to find places in Out of the Dust where they see alliteration. You can either do it while reading the book or after finishing it.
  • Stanza and Verse--Other literary terms in Out of the Dust are stanza and verse. Stanza is a group of poetry lines grouped together. On each page of this novel, students will be able to find examples of stanzas. Verse is a line of poetry. Karen Hesse's novel is actually an example of free verse instead of verse that rhymes or has meter. Ask students to find their favorite verse and then their favorite stanza in Out of the Dust.

Tragedy and Theme

out of the dust Two more literary terms in Out of the Dust are tragedy and theme.

  • Tragedy--In many novels and fiction stories, there are tragic events that occur. The tragedy in Out of the Dust revolves around the kerosene accident with Billie Jo's mother. Discuss with students the tragedy in the novel and how it affects the plot and the characters. You can also ask students to think of other books where there is tragedy and compare it to Out of the Dust.
  • Theme--Theme is a popular literary term that many teachers discuss with students whenever reading a novel. Teachers will ask students what themes a novel explores and then ask them to find examples in the novel's events that match the themes. If you are introducing this term to students for the first time, explain to them that theme is a message or idea that the author is exploring in his or her work. Themes are generally universal, meaning many people can relate to them. It is easiest to explain this one of the literary terms in Out of the Dust by using simple stories everyone knows such as The Three LIttle Pigs. An example of a theme in The Three Little Pigs is the easiest solution is not always the best. A theme in Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse is forgiveness.

Mood and Tone

Besides the literary terms in Out of the Dust mentioned above, you can also teach students about mood and tone with this novel. You can teach these terms while working on other comprehension skills.

  • Mood--You are helping students figure out what is the mood of the piece. How do most readers respond emotionally when reading the novel? Do readers laugh or cry? Do they have sympathy for the characters? In Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse, most readers respond to the tragedy in the novel and the way the characters deal with the tragedy. Many readers may cry or feel sad; but by the end, there may be a sense of hope.
  • Tone--These two literary terms in Out of the Dust are easily confused. Tone is the writer's attitude toward the subject--not the reader's response but the writer's attitude. Karen Hesse did not write a comedy--she wrote a realistic and often heartbreaking look at this period in history. She sets the tone with her free verse style and the details about this historical period she includes.

Literary terms in Out of the Dust can easily be taught while reading the novel and discussing it in class.

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