Symbols in our Everyday Lives

Well-Known World Brand Logotypes

Sonja and I are always thinking about ways we can strengthen and deepen our students’ understanding of literary elements such as symbolism. In our book Teaching Interpretation we discuss the various ways we can teach our students to identify symbols in texts and interpret their meanings. This work can be challenging for students because it is abstract. Sonja and I are constantly discussing the way that we can concretize this work and scaffold it for students.

Sonja and I like to meet at our favorite Panera Bread each weekend in order to discuss our challenges and successes in the classroom. One topic that we consistently discuss is the use of digital texts (such as the image above) to concretize and scaffold the abstract work of interpretation. After discussing this work and trying it in the classroom, we found that this minilesson helps teach students about symbolism:

Symbols are everywhere! One way to make your study of symbolism concrete is to show your students a collage like the one above. Ask your students if they can identify the symbols in this image. They are logos. They are images that represent companies and brands. This is the important part- this is an image, however, it represents something more.

Talk about the ways these symbols play a role in our everyday lives. Choose one symbol from the collage and discuss its deeper meaning. What do you think of when you see this image? A feeling? A desire? A time in your life? Next, have students try this work. Again, continue to reiterate that this image represents more than purely what it is. This will help strengthen your students’ understanding about symbols and how they represent more than what they are. For example, the Coca Cola symbol might literally represent a soft drink company, however, it might conjure up memories of summer camp, picnics, or sitting on the front porch with a grandparent. It symbolizes more.

This is a great way to kick-start your discussion of symbolism or strengthen the work your students are already doing in the classroom. This work transfers beautifully from digital texts like the image above to print-based texts like chapter books and picture books where the characters have special objects that symbolize more.


Typically found wearing mismatched socks, Dana Johansen spends her time teaching fifth grade in Connecticut, negotiating with her yellow lab about doggy dinner options, and plopping down on the floor in bookstore aisles to find new reads. She has taught elementary and middle school for fourteen years. Dana is a doctoral student at Teachers College, Columbia University where she studies blended learning in reading and writing workshop.