Of course, you know all about alliteration. Everyone knows about alliteration… don’t they?
Just stop for a moment. Perhaps you would recognise it if you heard it. But do you understand it well enough to use it effectively? And if you do, are you confident that you’d know how to teach alliteration successfully? Or might it be time to give your teaching toolbox a top-up?
What is alliteration? – checking you know
So, what is alliteration? It is a literary device which involves the use of words that start with the same sound in close proximity to one another. This usually means consecutive words, such as Fifi’s fabulous fresh fish, although you can have words in between, as in sailing serenely on the silvery sea.
If the words are too far apart, or if there are only two words that start with the same sound in the whole paragraph, you can’t really call it alliteration, or an alliterative phrase. It’s all about creating an audible effect through repetition of sound, so if you don’t notice the sound sequence when it’s read aloud, it’s not really alliteration.
Incidentally, it is important that the repeating sounds are at the beginning of the words. When they come in the middle, as in dotty spotted rotter, that is called consonance. Assonance tends to refer to the repetition of vowel sounds in the middle of words, such as sky high prices.
Securing understanding through alliteration examples
Probably the best place to start is by immersing your class in examples of alliteration. They really are everywhere – head teachers seem to be particularly partial to using it for naming any initiative they decide to launch.
You could also reach for any of the many alliteration poems that will pop up the moment you type that phrase into a search engine. The poem ‘The Raven’ by Edgar Allan Poe, for example uses alliteration throughout, for example:
Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore—
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
A word of caution with examples: tongue twisters can confuse the issue. While Peter Piper picked a peck of pickle peppers is a fair alliteration example, She sells seashells on the seashore is not, because of the mixing of the s and sh sounds rather than one repeated sound.
Alliterative names are often found in literature, and especially in superhero stories: Peter Parker, Matt Murdoch, Sue Storm and Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four, Clark Kent, Bruce Banner, Wonder Woman. See if children can name another character from fiction where there is an alliterative effect used in their name.
Securing understanding of alliteration through misconceptions
Using the ‘She sells seashells…’ tongue twister might even mislead pupils into thinking that alliteration is when words start with the same letter. This is not necessarily the case. Remember, it is the phoneme at the beginning the word that counts, not the grapheme. Who wrestles worms? is an intriguing question but it is not alliteration even if the initial consonants are the same.
Similarly, alliteration can involve words that do not start with the same letter. Five physical fish would count as alliteration, as would six psychic centurions. They both have a repeated consonant sound.
Of course, you can compile your own collection of examples to secure understanding. However, there’s a KS2 challenge mat in our SPaG Gym collection that has already done it for you if you want to whittle away your workload.
Knowing where to use alliteration
Alliteration is there to create an effect in language. For that reason, it is best used in creative situations such as poetry and fiction rather than more sober, factual compositions. Furthermore, it panders to your brain’s need to recognise patterns, which makes alliterative phrases stand out in the reader’s mind.
That’s why it is also used in persuasive texts, especially advertising and other forms of marketing, including product naming.
Perhaps you could challenge your class to think of as many examples as they can within a minute. Here’s your starter for ten: Monster Munch. For other examples of related learning activities to try with your class, see our persuasive writing challenge mat or our exclusive Write Now! resources.
Knowing when to use alliteration
Apart from trying to get a phrase to stick in the mind, alliteration can be used to enhance the meaning of the words by mimicking the sound of the object being described. It’s a bit like onomatopoeia, only more subtle … almost subliminal.
An obvious example would be using the hissing of repeated s sounds when describing a sinister snake silently slithering.
Harder consonant sounds such as p and t can evoke repetitive tapping noise, such as the pitter patter of paws. Meanwhile, more breathy sounds such as w can suggest anything from a breeze to a gale, as in the wind whispering in the willows. Once you sow the seed, your class will probably come up with countless examples by themselves.
Guided reading sessions will be a good place to help children get a deeper understanding. Make sure they can explain why alliteration has been used in any given extract rather than just requiring them to identify it.
Avoiding overuse of alliteration
Alliteration almost always alerts the attention but an over-anxious instinct to include it incessantly will inevitably annoy anyone. Why not pick a particularly grim example (there are plenty on the internet) and use it as a cautionary tale?
Urge older writers in particular to make sure they can justify their use of alliteration, either as a subtle effect or an attention-grabbing device.
Putting alliteration into practice
Give plenty of opportunity for pupils to practise using alliteration but stress that it is only one of a number of writing techniques they could employ. For poetry tasks, suggests that it is used in well-targeted short bursts. In fiction, encourage pupils to use it to enhance the effect of descriptive passages.
Using peer assessment to judge effective alliteration use
Peer assessment is always useful for both parties but why not take it a step further? Get your pupils to offer a subjective assessment on whether they think each use of alliteration is effective and possibly suggest improvements. It will take maturity but it will help them to make their endeavours effortlessly effective.