How Do I Create a Metaphor Lesson?

Cynde Gregory

Almost every schoolchild can recite the definition of a metaphor, but memorizing what something means is too often a far cry from really understanding it. A metaphor compares two unlike things directly. It is related to a simile, which compares two unlike things using the words "like" or "as." The best metaphor lesson will be one that teaches students through the vehicle of their own direct experience.

Interesting verbs, such as "ripple," can be part of a metaphor lesson.
Interesting verbs, such as "ripple," can be part of a metaphor lesson.

Children learn by doing, and they also learn by imitation. Teachers may begin a metaphor lesson by asking students to find some examples in a poem or story the class is reading. There’s nothing wrong with this, but when the kids are asked to come up with their own metaphors later in the lesson, they may have difficulty.

A teacher should be able to cite examples of metaphors that students have previously read.
A teacher should be able to cite examples of metaphors that students have previously read.

Instead, the teacher can begin the lesson with a game. Kids know games are fun, and they are eager to pit themselves against one another in an effort to win. Introducing the lesson as a game will help children understand the concept and make the class enjoyable.

This game forms the class into two teams. Each team has five minutes to make a list of things in nature and things inside a home, such as a river, an old boot, or a spoon. Each team puts their list on the board.

Next, with help from the students, the teacher leading the metaphor lesson makes a long list of interesting verbs, such as trudge, ripple, and slither, and another list of adjectives like rusty, faded, or flickering. Words such as nice, fun, beautiful, and the like should not be used in this second list because while they are grammatically adjectives, they do not evoke imagery.

Next, the teacher gives examples of metaphors based on the formula “X is not X, X is Y, with Y being a phrase that metaphorically describes X: “A river is not a river, it’s a slithering, twisting silver snake.” Next, the teacher should ask for a volunteer who can select any item from the opposing team’s list and couple it with any verb and any adjective. New objects, verbs, and adjectives can be added as they arise. Not only will the students get the basic concept of the literary device with this metaphor lesson, they will build vocabulary.

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Discussion Comments


@Iluviaporos - Yeah, I think the most important thing a teacher can do when teaching about language features is to read books that include them and ask the kids to point them out. "Why do you think the author said that?" should be your favorite phrase, because it helps them to think critically as well as to start to recognize the point of their own lessons.


@KoiwiGal - It might help to do something like comparing an unnatural object to a natural object rather than two natural objects. Like, you might get kids to say what color their shirts are, but do that using a metaphor, like "my shirt is strawberry red" or "I'm covered in sky today".

Or you might want to do something with sizes, as in "we have an elephant sized classroom and they have a mouse sized classroom."

I think it's particularly good to have lots of different examples in books and things that they can see and to ask them what it means, because they might actually know what a metaphor is, but just not know that is the word for it.


I remember trying to teach the meaning of metaphor to a kid in one of the classes I visited as a student teacher. He was not an advanced student and he didn't think much of his own intelligence (which was a shame, because he was very bright when he had the confidence to be).

I tried to explain to him that a metaphor is when you compare something to something else, like saying the sky is blue water, or grass is green emeralds.

When he tried to do it he kept saying things like the grass is green leaves and apples are red strawberries. He couldn't quite grasp the concept because he was taking everything too literally. I hope he managed to get it in the end (I was only there for a brief time).

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