Flowers of Rhetoric: Diacope

“He wore prim vested suits with neckties blocked primly against the collar buttons of his primly starched white shirts.”
Russell Baker

This is the second post in which I unpick the flowers of rhetoric, and provide a lesson plan and detailed teacher notes which you can pick up and use in your classrooms – either as is or adapted to suit the needs of your children. Other posts in the series can be found by clicking on the links below:


While the lessons in this sequence may be delivered in any sequence (with some minor adaptations), they work best when delivered in sequence, so please do click the above links and explore the previous posts, before delving further into this one. To reiterate previous posts, I have pitched this at Upper Key Stage 2, but materials can be used with younger or older children, but you might want to change elements. And not an elements in the lesson sequence have to be delivered. Feel free to spend more time on some elements, less on others or skip some altogether. As written, each lesson in the sequence should take approximately two separate one-hour lessons to deliver, the first lesson focused on exploration, analysis and short sentence composition, and second on application within a short piece of writing.

So onto our next flower…


Like many of the rhetorical devices we shall explore in this series of posts, and like epizeuxis which we have already explored, diacope is a repetitive technique. Where it differs from epizeuxis is that the repetition is spaced with and across sentences: in epizeuxis, the repeated words follow one another immediately (or with short function words between). Take this example, from Saul Bellow’s Henderson the Rain King:

Of course, in an age of madness, to expect to be untouched by madness is a form of madness. But the pursuit of sanity can be a form of madness, too.

The effect, as with most forms of repetition is to drive home the repeated word, drill into the reader’s mind, make it stick, make it memorable – here it’s the concept of madness. The repetition of diacope can be scattered anywhere within the sentence (in the above example the repetition is at the end of each phrase or clause, so is more precisely termed epistrophe, but more on that in another post. But the key point that children should understand is that any word that is repeated with other words between is considered to be diacope.

Diacope need not be contained with in a single sentence. take this speech made by Tony Blair in 2003 to the House of Commons, outlining his view that the world would look weak if it did not act against Saddam Hussain and his arsenal of WMDs (I make no political point here, just one about rhetoric).

This indulgence has to stop. Because it is dangerous. It is dangerous if such regimes disbelieve us. Dangerous if they think they can use weakness, our hesitation, even the natural urges of our democracy towards peace, against us. Dangerous because one day they will mistake our innate revulsion against war for permanent incapacity.

Whatever we may think of the politics, the use of diacope is designed to stamp into the minds of the listeners the (supposed or genuine) danger that Saddam Hussain posed to the word at large. It is no accident that he uses the word dangerous four times across four sentences. It is this word (and the sense of fear this might engender) that Blair wants us to remember. And including Blair’s speech makes the point that diacope (and all rhetorical devices) aren’t solely literary techniques used to add colour and flavour to fictional narrative, but are potent, persuasive devices used by politicians and orators to sway the hearts and mids of audiences the world over. And they were designed as such, being key weaponry in the oratory of politics and the law courts of ancient Greece and Rome.

In the employ of a literary genius, the effects of diacope can be breathtaking.

…and the night we missed the boat at Algeciras the watchman going about serene with his lamp and O that awful deepdown torrent O and the sea the sea crimson sometimes like fire and the glorious sunsets and the figtrees in the Alameda gardens yes and all the queer little streets and pink and blue and yellow houses and the rosegardens and the jessamine and geraniums and cactuses and Gibraltar as a girl where I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down Jo me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.

Here, in James Joyce’s Ulysses, the diacope of yes punctuates Molly Bloom’s stream of consciousness, becoming ever more frequent, as the intensity builds as she gives herself to Leopold, each yes indicating a growing acquiescence, an end to resistence, a growing self-abandon, a breathless descent into love and passion.

So far, our examples of diacope have repeated a single form of a word, but by including various forms of a single word opens up more possibilities. Take this wonderful example from Russell Baker’s Growing Up:

He wore prim vested suits with neckties blocked primly against the collar buttons of his primly starched white shirts. He had a primly pointed jaw, a primly straight nose, and a prim manner of speaking that was so correct, so gentlemanly, that he seemed a comic antique.

The reader is left under no illusion as to this character’s disposition. Across two sentences we get two forms of the same word – the adjective prim and the adverb primly. It allows the writer to apply the primness to nouns (a prim manner), verbs (blocked primly) and adjectives (a primly straight nose), increasing the scope, versatility and utility of the diacope.

And, of course, diacope used in this manner is a wonderful way of exploring morphology through the addition of suffixes, and investigating how words might be used in different forms. When exploring the varying ways we might repeat the word dark using diacope with a group of children, we explored how it might be used as an adjective (dark, darker, darkest, darkening) a noun (dark, darkness), a verb (darkened, darkening) and an adverb (darkly). And it allowed us to explore new vocabulary too: in this case, darkling (growing dark), a word favoured by many a fantasy writer.

The key to good vocabulary is selecting the the right word to repeat. When teaching children this technique, there are four criteria which are helpful.

1. Use key words. The word has to epitomise the tone of the writing. If you want to emphasise the gentleness within a scene repeat a word that does so. To emphasise the horrors of a battle, you might repeat variations of the word dead for example.

Death walked the battlefield that day. The dead lay in crumped heaps upon the earth, staring with dead eyes, their mouths fixed into deathly grimaces.

2. Keep it simple. Stick to short simple words when using diacope. This isn’t time to display your verbosity. Use sleepy rather than lethargic, dead rather than cadaverous, big rather than colossal. Longer, fanciful words tend to crowd out rather than enhance the other words on the page. And the use of shorter, simpler words leads us into our third criterion…

3. Use versatile words. If you wanted to capture the quick wit and intelligence of a character, use a word like sharp over intelligent. Intelligent is a fairly inflexible word. You could apply it to someone’s thoughts, words, or perhaps their eyes. But sharp can do all of these things, but also a sharp nose, sharp turn of the mouth, she might wear a sharp suit, or be all sharp edges. Or a word like dull is preferable to uninteresting: dull might refer to a lack of colour (dull skin, dull clothing) but also a lack of excitement (dull wit, dull eyes, dull thoughts). And these flexible words are those that also tend to be short and simple.

4. Use words that take suffixes. This will allow for greater flexibility when using them. The word soft, for example, can take take several forms – soften, softened, softening, softens, softer, softest, softly, softness. This allows it be used in multiple ways within and across sentences, heightening the effect of the diacope. Whereas delicate has fewer variations – delicately being the only notable example.

5. Mean it. Be bold or go home when it comes to diacope. Two repetitions might feel accidental to the reader; three or four, never so.

In my 20s, having read the Little Prince and fancying myself as a budding writer, I tried to write something both child-like and profound, a children’s story that made poignant observations about life and human nature. Of course, it was more difficult than I’d anticipated and it remains unfinished, but here are the opening paragraphs:

On a little planet in a little sky lives a little man. The little man is like any other little man. Nothing distinguishes him from other little men on his little planet in his little sky. He gets up in the morning, performs his morning rituals, travels through his little world with all the other little men, works to move little green pieces of paper from Place A to Place B for other little men (who like to believe they are too important to move the little green pieces of paper for themselves), comes home, performs his evening rituals, goes to bed at night. Dreams little dreams. Begins the process again. This is the story of how this little man became just a little less little than all the other little men on his little planet in his little sky.

It uses (perhaps overuses) diacope in the extreme. There is the diacope of thw word little throughout, but also diacope using noun phrases: little man / men (8 times) little planet (3 times), little sky (3 times), little green pieces of paper (twice).

We can use diacope with all kinds of phrases, whether that be repeated adjective phrases – Beneath the deep dark sky, the deep dark woods were filled with deep dark secrets. – or repeated adverbials – Snow fell softly, silently through the still air and settled softly, silently upon the fields beneath. And a master of the craft can play with this to stunning effect, which brings us back to James Joyce, this time the final paragraph of The Dead:

Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried.

As Gabriel stares out of the window, watching the falling snow, quietly contemplating that he was not Gretta’s first love, the falling snow suggests the gentle numbness he feels, a gentle numbness not only of his own life, but of life across Ireland.  We get the diacope of falling, but Joyce weaves it into the phrase falling softly and later softly falling. It’s a slow, poetic descent into numbness, a quiet death.

One of the ‘magic tricks’ I teach children is to blend diacope with epizeuxis (assuming you have already taught it).

She leaned – softly, softly – over the bed and kissed her daughter’s cheeck – softly, softly – so as not to wake her.

Here the diacope is formed from the repetition of the epizeuxis of softly, softly.

They stole through black as black shadows beneath a black as black sky, dark thoughts in their black as black eyes.

And here the diacope is formed from the repetition of the epizeuxis of black as black.

Resource Key

In the downloadable PDF lesson handout and teacher notes that accompany this post, I’ve used symbols to denote different kinds of activities. The above key shows the following categories of activity:

key ideas relating to the learning focus  that will need to be explained to the children

analysis of the technique which might involve finding and underlining examples or discussing the effect of the technique within sentences

writing, at first trying out the technique within individual sentences and later a short writing task that incorporates the use of the technique

magic tricks – unusual and interesting ways that the technique can be deployed in writing. Like the key ideas these will need to be explained to children

teacher notes which provide lesson guidance such as the finer detail of explanations, possible answers to the above activities and scripts for co-constructing writing

The boxes in the lesson plan below indicate elements of the lesson. Beneath each element are the teacher notes (which are replicated in full on the PDF at the bottom of the post).

The Diacope Lesson

The aim of retrieval practice is to have children practice recall previously learned knowledge. This strengthens children ability to remember the information subsequently. For retrieval practice to be effective is important that children attempt it independently.

Have the retrieval practice sheet on desks as children enter the room.

Explain that the children must place a tick in the box preceding each sentence if that sentence contains epizeuxis, and a cross in the box if it does not. Explain that they have 4 minutes to complete the task.

Do not explain the meaning of epizeuxis.

As children complete the retrieval practice sheet, circulate, noting common misconceptions and and supporting children who are finding it difficult. The aim is to provide the minimal prompt possible to enable them to recall for themselves. For example if a child mostly has them correct and it is clear they understand epizeuxis, you might draw their attention to specific errors: “Have a look at numbers 3 and 5 again.” If it is clear that the child cannot correctly recall the meaning of epizeuxis you might provide a prompt to ascertain their thinking: “Can you tell me what you think epizeuxis is?” (This might prompt a correct recall). Or if this does not, you might briefly explain what epizeuxis is: “Remember that epizeuxis is when we repeat words quickly one after another.”

When children have been prompted, have them switch to a different coloured pen, so that you can see what was completed prior to, and after, prompting.

After four minutes, have all children switch to a different coloured pen and work through common misconceptions as a whole class. The correct answers are marked in red above.

Common misconceptions might include:

  • misidentifying sentences 4 and 7 as epizeuxis as they repeat the words grey and barked respectively, but these are not epizeuxis as there are gaps of more than a single word between the repetitions
  • thinking that small words between repeitions are included in the epizeuxis: clapped and clapped; soft as soft; street to street; closer, closer and closer.

Explain that diacope is the repetition of a word or phrase with other words between.

Read the example from Russell Baker’s Growing Up, drawing attention to the dicaope of the word prim in its two forms prim (adjective) and primly.

Note that diacope can stretch across more than one sentence. In the above example the diaope spans two sentences.

Draw attention to the similarity and difference between diacope and epizeuxis. The two techniques are similar as they are both techniques in which words are repeated, but different as the repetition in epizeuxis is immediate but in diacope there is several words between the repetition. Explain that diacope can be formed from the repetition of a single word, and read the sentence:

The dark woods were filled with dark shadows in the dark night.

Ask the children to underline word that is repeated to form diacope. Ensure that children have correctly identified the word dark. Explain that diacope can be formed from different forms of the same word. This will typically be achieved by using different suffixes. For example, we can add suffixes to the word dark to form darken, darkened darkening, darker, darkest, darkling and darkly. Read the sentence:

The hungry wolves stared hungrily at their prey with a deadly hunger in their eyes.

Ask the children to underline the variations of the word that is repeated. Ensure that children have correctly identified hungry, hungrily and hunger. Explain that diacope can be formed from short phrases so that more than one word forms the diacope. Read the sentence:

The deep, dark woods were filled with deep, dark shadows in the deep, dark night.

Ask the children to underline the repeated phrases. Ensure that children have correctly underlined deep, dark. Ask the children to underline the words and phrases that form diacope. The correct answers are marked in red below.

White snow fell from a white sky onto the white blanket of earth below.

In this sentence, the diacope is formed from the repetition of the word white.

It crept silently along silent alleys, slipped across silent gardens and silently stole through open windows, leaving silence in its wake.

In this sentence, the diacope is formed from variations of the same word: silent, silently and silence.

The wind softly sang over the moors and softly sang through the heather.

In this sentence, the diacope is formed from the repetition of the phrase softly sang.

Jim was never happy. His mouth never curled into a happy smile. There was never a happy twinkle in his eye. His thoughts and dreams were never filled with happiness.

In this sentence, there are two examples of diacope. The first  is formed from the repetition of the word never. The second is formed from variations of the same word: happy and happiness.

Discuss the answers, and unpick any misconceptions, for example:

  • the repetition of short function words – such as a, an, and, of, the and was within sentences is not considered diacope.

Explain that when using diacope in writing, it is preferable to select short and simple words for repetition: big rather than colossal, sad rather than dejected. Note the choice of short simple words in the above examples: white, silent, softly, sang, never and happy.

Explain that, where possible it is a good idea to select words that can have multiple meanings and can therefore be used in multiple ways. For example, the word dark can imply a lack of light as in dark night or cruelty and evil as in dark thoughts; the word sharp can imply an edge that can cut as in sharp blade or cleverness as in sharp eyes.

Remind children that we can repeat various forms of a word to create diacope: dark, darkly, darker, darkest, darkness. Share the magic trick with the children, explaining that this is clever ways of using diacope that is different from the ways it is typically used.

Briefly recap epizeuxis: the quick repetition of a word (with perhaps a small word between).

Read the sentence:

           They waded over the cold, cold river, the water soaking into their cold, cold bones.

Ask the children to underline the epizeuxis cold, cold and note that it is repeated again later in the sentence. This repetition of the phrase cold, cold is diacope.

Read the sentence:

The white as white snow fell from white as white clouds onto the white as white earth below.

Ask the children to underline the epizeuxis white as white and note that it is repeated again later in the sentence. This repetition of the phrase white as white is diacope. Explain that the children will complete the sentences, repeating the words marked in red to form diacope. Remind children that they might use various forms of the word and use the magic trick technique.

Co-construct the first sentence as a whole class, modelling the the use of diacope. A possible solultion for the first sentence might be:

A cold wind whipped up the cold snow and drove it into the faces of the travellers who were frozen to their cold bones.

While constructing the sentence, draw attention to places in which you are not repeating the word cold: “I could add cold before faces and travellers to say ‘drove it into the cold faces of the cold travellers’ but I think three uses of ‘cold’ is enough in this sentence.”  

Ask the children to complete the sentences (including their version of the first sentence).

Share and discuss completed sentences, celebrating successes and unpicking misconceptions. Explain that the children will write a short description, trying to capture the essence of that character using diacope by repeating one carefully chosen word. They will need to select the word we will repeat carefully.

Remind the children that words that make for good diacope will be:

  • short and simple
  • can be used to describe many different things
  • can take various forms by adding suffixes


Explain the meaning of any words in the above word list that children may be unfamiliar with.

Ask the children, in pairs, to discuss and circle three words that might be good choices to be repeated in a character description. They should be be prepared to justify their choices to the class.

Discuss some of the choices as a class, drawing attention to the criteria for selection discussed earlier. Discuss the content they might include in their character description. A brief list on the handouts includes:

  • what the character looks like: face, hair, body shape, etc.
  • what the character wears
  • what the character does: their habits, how they walk, talk, etc.
  • the character’s personality.


Walk children through four challenge levels:

  1. the writing must use diacope by repeating of the words selected from the list
  2. the repeated word will take more than one form, through the addition of suffixes
  3. the writing will include a diacope fromed from a repeated phrase
  4. the writing will include at least one example of epizeuxis


Every child should aim to at least complete challenge 1. Challenges 2 to 4 are optional, not in any particular order, and are not cumulative.

Co-construct an example of the writing as a whole class.

An example of a completed co-constructed piece is included below, which you may choose to use or draw upon. Examples of diacope are marked in red.

Jim Large was, oddly enough a small man. He had small eyes above a small nose that barely protruded from his small head. He wore a dull, grey suit (which was, of course, much, much too small) and a tie that was pulled into a small knot. On his small feet, he wore small brown shoes and walked with small, shuffling steps to the small office in which he worked, writing small messages inside small greetings cards.

The smallness of his appearance was only matched by the smallness of his thoughts. Throughout his small days, he thought the smallest of small thoughts, and when he fell asleep (in his small bed) throughout the night dreamed the smallest of small dreams.

The children compose their own short pieces, including diacope, drawing upon the content ideas, and meeting the four challenges.

Share and celebrate.

The Diacope Downloads

Please download the two PDFs below.

Retrieval Practice


Lesson Handout


Teacher Lesson Notes


If you would like me to train your teachers in The Flowers of Rhetoric, whether that be through INSET, staff meetings or team teaching, do please get in touch via the contact form.

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