Anaphora are words (and expressions) that refer back to something that appeared earlier in the text. Here is a simple example:
Abby is my dog. She is a yellow Labrador retriever.
“She” is an anaphora that refers to Abby.
You can’t look up the meaning of an anaphora in the dictionary because a dictionary can’t tell you that “she” refers to Abby. The anaphora’s meaning is inside the text, usually in the preceding sentence. You have to infer — figure out — its meaning from the previous sentences.
We use anaphora in conversation all the time, and nobody has any trouble understanding what is being said. But text is different. Many students have great difficulty understanding the anaphora writers use in prose.
Anaphora are so challenging to young readers that the Morningside Academy (where I attended the Morningside Summer School Institute last summer) trains students to interpret anaphora first, before teaching them how to find the main idea.
To look at a use of anaphora that stumped our class last September, go here.