Flowers of Rhetoric: Elaborative Diacope

“It was dusk – winter dusk. Snow lay white and shining over the pleated hills and icicles hung from the forest trees.” Joan Aiken

This is the third 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 although you might want to change elements. And not all 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.

Elaborative Diacope

Elaborative diacope is yet another technique, like epizeuxis and diacope, that lends emphasis to words and phrases through the use of repetition. Let’s take the opening to Joan Aiken’s The Wolves of Willoughby Chase:

It was duskwinter dusk. Snow lay white and shining over the pleated hills and icicles hung from the forest trees.

In the first sentence the noun dusk is repeated , but the second repetition is expanded – in this case with the adjective winter. And that’s it – elaborative diacope is a repetitive technique in which the final repetition is expanded.

In most cases, elaborative diacope follows a ‘short, long’ pattern in which the ‘short’ is typically a single word and the ‘long’ an expanded phrase of some sort, the most famous example being My name is Bond. James Bond. And once you know it, you see it everywhere. In pop songs: Sunday, bloody Sunday (U2). In advertisements: You’re not fully clean until you’re Zestfully clean (Zest soap). In TV Sitcoms: You bad man! You very, very bad man! (Babu, Bhatt, Seinfeld).

You’d think, given the name elaborative diacope, that the starting point for teaching it would be diacope – but epizeuxis is better. Take the epizeuxis of this sentence:

Jim was waiting, waiting by the abandoned warehouse.

The repetition of epizeuxis has the effect of drawing our attention to waiting, elongating it, dragging it out. We can transform this epizeuxis into elaborative diacope by expanding the final repetition:

Jim was waiting, anxiously waiting, by the abandoned warehouse.

We still have emphasis on the verb waiting due to its repetition, but the effect of elaborative diacope is to place additional emphasis on what is added to the final repetition, in this case anxiously. As readers we are purposefully drawn to Jim’s anxiety. Jim isn’t just waiting – he’s anxiously waiting. Is something about to go down? Is he in danger? The real power of elaborative diacope isn’t in what is the same between the repetitions, but in what is different. If we change the modifier in the final repetition, we shift the emphasis dramatically.

Jim was waiting, innocently waiting, by the abandoned warehouse.

Now we, the readers, know something Jim doesn’t. Something is about to go down, but Jim is blissfully unaware.

Elaborative diacope is a technique used to great effect by Kevin Crossley Holland in his beautifully written collection of British folk tales, Outsiders. The opening to his retelling of The Green Children starts:

This is what happened. One of our lambs skipped into a dark cave, and we ran in to rescue it. We heard bells in the cave, bright bells, and we stumbled towards them.

The addition of bright in the extended repetition does several things all at once. It contrasts with the dark of the cave, it captures both the sound and image in one neat word. But most of all it tells us that these aren’t just ordinary bells – they are bright bells. It hints at otherworldiness, of magic, of the unnatural events to come.

And his retelling of The Wildman ends:

I bit through the webs, I slipped through the window bars. It was almost night and the blue heaviness was coming into me. I staggered away, back to the water, the waiting dark water.

A wildman, a creature of the sea, is captured by humans and locked away. Biting through the nets, he slips through the bars of his cage and back to the water. But this is not any water, it the waiting, dark water. Waiting because it is is home, dark because it is where he can remain unhidden from his captors.

Hugh Lupton, in his retelling of the Greek myth Theseus and The Minotaur describes the jealousy that Daedalus feels towards his nephew, Talos, over his clever inventiveness:

Daedalus was filled with jealous ragea bitter, yellow, bubbling, seething rage that he couldn’t control.

This isn’t just any typical jealous rage; it is a bitter, yellow, bubbling, seething rage. It emphases the depths of Daedalus’ anger and warns us of the vile act to come, as Daedalus throws his nephew from a cliff to his (apparent) death.

So far, our examples of elaborative diacope have followed a ‘short, long’ pattern, but writers often employ an additional repetition in a ‘short, short, long’ pattern. Shakespeare was particular partial to do the ‘short, short, long’ construction. In Act I Scene V of Hamlet, the protagonist says:

O villain, villain, smiling, damned villain!

Describing Claudius, who murdered his father to obtain the crown, we see the sheer revulsion in which Hamlet holds his uncle with the addition of damned in the final repetition. And we also see from the use of smiling how Claudius appears to be an honest and trustworthy man, which could not be further from the truth.

And in Act V Scene IV of Richard II, we get one of Shakespeare’s most well-known lines:

A horse, a horse! My kingdom for a horse.

In the midst of battle, his horse dead, and with his foe, Richmond, closing in on him, Richard desperately needs a horse to fight, and so he cries out this most famous line. The repetition of horse makes he need clear. The expansion of the final repetition makes it clear just how desperate Richard is – so desperate that he is willing to trade his kingdom.

And perhaps more well-known still, from Act II Scene II of Romeo and Juliet:

O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?

At her balcony, Juliet cries out in frustration to her impossible love, unbeknownst to her in the shadows below. The addition of wherefore art thou (meaning for what reason are you) drives home her agony. Why do you have to be a  Montague? she, a Capulet, cries.

The reason that these three examples from Shakespeare appear at such pivotal moments in their respective plays, and are so well remembered by even those with a passing interest in the writings of Shakespeare, is that elaborative diacope is so powerfully memorable. But the ‘short, short, long’ pattern has an additional effect when compared with its shorter ‘short, long’ sibling – that of crescendo. There’s a sense of building up to, of reaching a peak.

Nobody quite captured this as well as  Martin Luther King Jr in his I Have a Dream speech, referencing the spirituals sang in African American Baptist churches:

Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!

It’s no accident that elaborative diacope has been employed in the very last lines of the speech. It’s the rousing crescendo of a rousing speech, a bold vision of a brighter future with which to leave his audience.

Now there are many ways of creating elaborative diacope with children, but I tend to stick to three simple techniques that focus on the  elaboration of three word types: nouns, verbs and adjectives.

When elaborative diacope is constructed from the repetition of a noun, the final repetition is expanded with one or more adjectives, below the nouns snow and terror modified by the adjectives cleansing, spine-chilling and gut-wrenching respectively:

Snowcleansing snow –  settled upon the sinful earth. As it came closer, Nancy was filed with terrorspine-chilling, gut-wrenching terror.

When the elaborative diacope is constructed from the repetition of a verb, the final repetition is expanded with one or more adverbs. In the following example, the verbs falling and emerged are modified by the adverbs endlessly and silently:

Alice was falling, falling, endlessly falling towards who knew what. In the small hours of the night they emergedslowly, silently emerged from the dark places.

And the elaborative diacope is constructed from the repetition of an adjective, the final repetition is again expanded with one or more adverbs. Here the adjectives deep and dead are modified by the adverbs unfathomably, suddenly and unalterably.

The sea was deepunfathomably deep. John was dead. Suddenly, unalterably dead.

One simple technique to enhance the emphasis created by elaborative diacope is to combine it with epizeuxis. It’s a technique employed by Samuel Taylor Colerdige in his epic poem, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner:

Alone, alone, all, all alone
Alone on a wide wide sea!
And never a saint took pity on
My soul in agony!

Here we have the repetition of alone, but one all is not sufficient for the final expanded repetition. Here all means completely, and so the epizeuxis of all, all further emphasises the completeness of the loneliness.

When teaching elaborative diacope, you will need to show children how to demarcate it. Now there isn’t a single method of doing so, and what follows is as much personal preference and an attempt to apply a simple logic as it is about correctness. Most commonly we will use commas and dashes, but colons and full stops can be employed too. Let’s demonstrate with a single ‘short, long’ example.

The cloak of heaven was peppered with stars, sacred stars.

The cloak of heaven was peppered with starssacred stars.

The cloak of heaven was peppered with stars: sacred stars.

The cloak of heaven was peppered with stars. Sacred stars.

The comma is the most versatile and is rarely out of place whatever the genre or tone of the writing. The dash feels less formal, the colon more so, and both separate the final repetition from the rest of the sentence more than the comma, placing greater emphasis on the elaboration. And the full stop places the final repetition in its own sentence fragment, providing greater emphasis still.

In a ‘short, short, long’ pattern, the simplest approach is to use the same punctuation to demarcate each repetition using either commas or dashes.

The cloak of heaven was peppered with stars, stars, sacred stars.

The cloak of heaven was peppered with starsstarssacred stars.

If we are to mix it up a little, avoid the colon altogether and place the punctuation in the following order: commas, dashes, full stops. So:

The cloak of heaven was peppered with stars, starssacred stars.

The cloak of heaven was peppered with stars, stars. Sacred stars.

The cloak of heaven was peppered with stars stars. Sacred stars.

This places those punctuation marks indicating greatest separation at the end, lending the final elaborated repetition greatest emphasis.

If we were to rearrange the sentence so that the elaborative diacope were no longer at the end of the sentence, the simplest approach is to stick with commas or  dashes.

Stars, sacred stars, peppered the cloak of heaven.

Starssacred stars – peppered the cloak of heaven.

Avoid the colon altogether, and the use of a full stop would be a bold move indeed, but can work in certain situations.

The cloak of heaven was peppered with stars. Sacred stars, which illuminated the darkling sky.

One consideration with the punctuation is whether we demarcate following the final repetition. Doing so creates parenthesis, the final extended repetition separated from the sentence.  If doing so, demarcate with the same punctuation used elsewhere in the elaborative diacope. This approach works well when the elaborative diacope is formed from nouns or adjectives.

Stars  sacred stars, peppered the cloak of heaven.

Stars  sacred stars – peppered the cloak of heaven.

All was quiet, blissfully quiet, as dusk faded into night.

All was quietblissfully quiet – dusk faded into night.

Elaborative diacope formed from verbs works well without the final demarcation, allowing the verb to flow effortlessly into the rest of the sentence.

The silvery moon sailed, silently sailed across the firmament.

The silvery moon sailedsilently sailed across the firmament.

The silvery moon sailed. Silently sailed across the firmament.

One final thought should be given to the comma. When creating elaborative diacope it is easy to end up with an overload of commas. Take the following example:

Stars, stars, sacred, silent stars, peppered the cloak of heaven.

Here we have commas which demarcate the repetitions within the elaborative diacope. But there is also a comma demarcating the two adjectives sacred and silent within the final repetition. The result is that it is unclear at first glance which commas are performing which role. If there are commas within the final repetition, demarcating the repetitions themselves with dashes will clear things up.

Starsstarsscared, silent stars – peppered the cloak of heaven.

Two things cannot be stressed here enough. The first is to reiterate that these are suggestions not rules. Context is king here. What works in one situation will not work in another. Experiment, play, explore. The second is to be clear that with some of the above we are pushing against the conventions of standard punctuation, purposefully creating sentence fragments to place greater emphasis on our extended repetitions. Ensure that basic sentence construction and punctuation is secure before ‘breaking the rules’. A threefold test for ‘breaking the rules’ with sentence construction works well here:

  1. know and be able to explain the rule you are breaking
  2. know the reason you are breaking the rule, the effect you are trying to achieve
  3. break rules sparingly


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 Elaborative Diacope Lesson

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

Explain that the children must identify if each sentence contains either epizeuxis or diacope, both or neither. They should record their answers by placing a tick in the e column for epizeuxis, d for diacope, b for both and n for neither.

Do not explain the meaning of epizeuxis or diacope.

As children complete the retrieval practice sheet, circulate, noting common misconceptions and supporting children who are finding it difficult. The aim is to provide the minimal prompt possible to enable them to recall for themselves.

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 diacope as epizeuxis and vice-versa
  • misidentifying short function words as diacope: for example, the or as
  • in sentence 3, thinking that small words between repetitions are included in the epizeuxis: white as white
  • in sentence 3, identifying either epizeuxis or diacope but not both: the sentence contains the close repetition of white as white this is considered epizeuxis, but because this phrase is repeated with later in the sentence with space between, this is considered diacope
  • in sentence 5, not identifying that the various forms of quick (quick and quicker) are included in the diacope

Explain that elaborative diacope is a form of repetition in which the final repetition is extended.

Read the example from Joan Aiken’s The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, drawing attention to the elaborative diacope duskwinter dusk, noting that noun dusk has been repeated, but in the second repetition the writer has added the adjective winter before it to create the noun phrase winter dusk.

Also note the use of punctuation between the repetitions, in this instance a dash. Explain that there are several ways that we can create elaborative diacope. The first is by adding an adjective before a noun in the final repetition as in Joan Aiken’s The Wolves Of Willoughby Chase.

Read the example:

The ship sailed from sea to shining sea.

Explain that this follows the same pattern as the Joan Aiken example, the extended repetition adds the adjective shining before the noun sea. Ask the children which adjectives might replace shining to create different effects. Which adjectives might suggest that the sea is dangerous? Or big?

Read the example:

Rain dripped, dripped, endlessly dripped through the trees.

Explain that this time is the verb dripped that is being repeated and the final repetition has been extended using the adverb endlessly. Ask the children how we might change either endlessly or dripped to create a stormy image.

Read the example:

The children were quietsuspiciously quiet.

Note that the adjective quiet has been repeated, and that the adverb suspiciously has been added to the final repetition. Ask the children what the adverb suspiciously implies (that the children had something underhanded planned, perhaps). Ask the children what might be suggested if we changed the adverb to obediently, mysteriously or delightfully?

Draw attention to the fact that the first and third examples contain one repetition each in a ‘short. long’ pattern, but the second contains two repetitions in a ‘short, short, long’ pattern. Explain that we need to be careful with punctuation when using elaborative diacope, and that we can demarcate elaborative diacope with either commas, dashes, colons or full-stops. Explain that we can see the same example of diacope, each time with different punctuation. Read the first two examples, containing commas:

Blood, thick red blood, covered the floor.

The floor was covered with blood, thick red blood.

Note that the elaborative diacope is at the start of the first sentence and at the end of the second, but otherwise both sentences communicate the same information. Draw attention to the use of commas. In both sentences a comma is used to separate the repetitions. Note that we might also use punctuation following the final repetition, but this is optional, depending upon the context of the sentence.

Read the second two examples:

Blood thick red blood covered the floor.

The floor was covered with blood thick red blood.

Ask the children to identify the difference between these two sentences and the previous two. Draw out that the commas have simply been replaced by dashes, and that the two types of punctation marks can be interchanged (although some consider dashes to be more informal than commas).

Explain that dashes might be preferable in some circumstances. In the above example, there are no commas between the adjectives thick and red. If we had separated the two adjectives with commas as well as demarcating the repetitions with commas, our sentence would read as follows:

Blood, thick, red blood, covered the floor.

This leads to comma overload and it becomes unclear which commas are there for which reason. If commas are already used within the extended repetition, then use anything other than commas to demarcate the repetitions themselves, perhaps as follows:

Blood thick, red blood covered the floor.

Read the final two examples:

The floor was covered with blood: thick red blood.

The floor was covered with blood. Thick red blood.

Explain that a colon and full stop can only be used to demarcate the repetitions when the elaborative diacope is at the end of a sentence. (A full stop can be used when the elaborative diacope is elsewhere in the sentence, but is difficult to do well.)

Explain that the hard stop of a full stop emphasises the extended repetition most strongly as it places it within its own sentence fragment.

You might also explain that the colon can only be used where there is only one repetition in a ‘short, long’ pattern, but the other punctuation marks can also demarcate a ‘short, short, long’ pattern.

The floor was covered with blood, blood, thick red blood.

The floor was covered with bloodbloodthick red blood.

The floor was covered with blood. Blood. Thick red blood.

Explain that the sentences have been written without demarcation for the elaborative diacope. Children should find the elaborative diacope within each sentence and demarcate it correctly, selecting any of the appropriate methods previously discussed. There will be more than one way to punctuate each example and they should choose whichever seems most appropriate.

Possible responses for each sentence might include:

Sentence 1

The surface of the lake was like glass, smooth black glass.

The surface of the lake was like glass smooth black glass.

The surface of the lake was like glass: smooth black glass.

The surface of the lake was like glass. Smooth black glass.

Sentence 2

But something waited, waited, patiently waited beneath the mirrored surface.

But something waited waited patiently waited beneath the mirrored surface.

Sentence 3     

It was old uncommonly, unthinkably old and it was cruel unutterably, unalterably cruel.

It was old uncommonly, unthinkably old. And it was cruel unutterably, unalterably cruel.

Discuss differing responses and correct misconceptions. Share the magic trick with the children, explaining that we can combine elaborative diacope with epizeuxis by repeating the modifying word in the final extended repetition. Read the sentence:

Ashblack, black ash – fell from a red sky and choked the earththe dead, dead earth – below.

Identify the epizeuxis of black, black and dead, dead within the elaborative diacope, and discuss how the repetition of these modifiers lends extra emphasis to the blackness of the ash and deadness of the earth respectively. Read the sentence:

All was quiet. Snow drifted from the sky, dancing in the air, and settled upon the trees like a blanket.

Establish the tone of the sentence – that it is calm and gentle.

Explain that the children will rewrite the sentence several times, each time adding an example of elaborative diacope. Other than adding elaborative diacope, they should change nothing else within the sentence. For each rewritten sentence, they should select a word that merits emphasis, repeat it (once or twice) and extend the final repetition. They should rewrite the sentence several times, each time selecting a different word from which to create elaborative diacope.

Remind children that they might include the magic trick. Explain that when creating their elaborative diacope, the children should try to emphasise the clam and gentle tone of the sentence, selecting the appropriate vocabulary to add to the final extended repetition.

Read the worked example:

All was quiet. Snow drifted, dancing in the air, and settledslowly, softly settled – upon the trees like a blanket.

Ask the children which word has been selected as the starting point for the elaborative diacope, establishing that the answer is the verb settled. Establish that the extended repetition has been modified with the adverbs slowly, softly, and that the choice of vocabulary emphasises the calm and gentle tone of the sentence as previously discussed.

Draw attention to the choice of punctuation, explaining that because the elaborative diacope is not at the end of the sentence, we are limited to commas and dashes to demarcate it. And because commas have been used between the adverbs within the final extended repetition, for the sake of clarity, the repetitions have been demarcated with dashes.

Reemphasise that apart from adding elaborative diacope, the sentence remains otherwise unaltered.

As children write their sentences, circulate and support individuals, and note common misconceptions.

Appropriate words within the sentence to select as the basis for elaborative diacope are: quiet, snow, drifted, dancing, air, trees and blanket.

Share and discuss successful examples and unpick common misconceptions.

The royalty-free image used for the short writing task can be downloaded from Wallpaper Flare.

  Display the image of the carriage travelling through the forest and the wolves gathering, and explain that the children will write a short paragraph (or two) about this scene (although they might use their imaginations to go beyond it).

Discuss what they can see within the image: the carriage and it’s drivers, the horses, the wolf pack gathering, the skeletal trees, the mist, the cobbled path. The following questions might support the discussion:

Where are the carriages coming from and going to?

Who is inside?

Why are they travelling at night?

Why have the wolves gathered and what might they do next?

How might the horses react to the wolves?

How do the horses, the driver and the occupants of the carriage feel?

Summarise the discussion about the content of the writing, including the information from the ‘you may write about’ section on the handout.

Share and discuss the wolf and horse (which also includes words for the carriages) word banks (n = nouns, a = adjectives, v = verbs), clarifying any unknown vocabulary, and how the vocabulary might apply to the wolves, horses and the carriages (the wolves howls might have been blood-curdling, for example).

Walk children through four challenge levels. Every child should aim to at least complete challenge 1. Challenges 2, 3 and 4 are optional, not in any particular order, and are not cumulative. Challenges 2 and 4 relate to previously taught content – epizeuxis and diacope.

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. Words within the model drawn from the word bank are underlined. Examples of elaborative diacope are marked in red.

Wolvessavage, ravenous wolvesgathered on the forest path, silhouetted against the cadaverous mist. The monstrous beasts with their black fur lifted their black muzzles to the black night and howled bloodcurdling howls.

The stallions reared and galloped panic-stricken along the path, their hooves clattering, clattering, frenziedly clattering on the cobbles. The carriage barrelled along behind them, the driver straining and at the reins, but the horses thundered on and on and on into the dark.

The children compose their own short pieces, considering the purpose, drawing upon the content ideas and word bank, and including the elaborative diacope, and optionally epizeuxis and diacope, through the 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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