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What Are the Best Tips for Teaching Metaphors?

By C. K. Lanz
Updated May 23, 2024
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Some of the best tips for teaching metaphors include establishing a clear definition of the concept and its types before introducing examples and illustrating how this figure of speech improves writing. It may also be helpful to have students create visual representations of metaphors through illustration or photography. Metaphors are pervasive in daily life beyond writing and rhetoric. As a result, teaching metaphors should be approached as a long-term process rather than a lesson plan for a single class day.

Establishing a clear definition and history of the term is an effective foundation for teaching metaphors. Depending on the students’ ages, it may be appropriate to have them attempt to explain the concept and its types with the teacher guiding and filling in gaps. It may be helpful to compare and contrast metaphors with similar concepts like similes and symbols. Such methods help ensure that learners are active, engaged, and responsible for course material.

Once the class has established a definition, the next tip for teaching metaphors involves working through examples. Examples can be provided by the teacher, or, if appropriate, students can provide examples as homework or search for them during class time. As with the previous tip, students should be responsible for generating explanations for the examples of metaphor presented, why each example is or is not a metaphor, and how the metaphor functions.

When presenting examples of metaphors, it is often effective to begin with simple representations and work up to more difficult ones. Poetry is a reliable source of metaphor, but using examples from popular culture like music, television, and film can make the lesson more relevant to students. Advertising also relies heavily on metaphor and can help students understand that they think metaphorically in daily life to the point that it goes unnoticed.

Some examples can serve to illustrate both written and visual metaphor. The poem by e.e. cummings’ a leaf falls on loneliness is an example of a double metaphor. The poet associates a lone leaf falling with loneliness and uses isolated letters falling down the page to visualize the feeling.

After a series of both written and visual examples have been digested by the class, the next phase of teaching metaphors can ask students to generate their own. Rather than box students into a particular form of expression, teachers can consider allowing a variety of ways to complete the assignment. Students can write poetry, a story, or play. Those who are visual learners may find it more useful to create an advertisement, a drawing, or compose and take a photograph. Depending on equipment availability, students may even be able to write, produce, and film a scene in which a metaphor is used.

A final tip for teaching metaphors is to recycle and review the material in class whenever possible. Even if the lesson’s focus is not metaphor per se, if the material being studied includes an example, having students recognize and explain it will help reinforce understanding of the concept. Such reinforcement can cultivate an understanding that goes deeper than short-term memory.

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Discussion Comments
By Sporkasia — On May 23, 2014

Anyone who is serious about writing should know what a metaphor is and how to use one. Metaphors are sometimes the best way to describe complicated subjects, and metaphors are a great way to add color and detail to writing that might otherwise be bland.

I think the primary hurdle teachers have to get over when teaching metaphors is getting their young students to see the importance of using metaphors, and smiles too.

By Feryll — On May 23, 2014

@Drentel - If you are still having trouble recognizing similes and metaphors and telling which is which then there is a simple trick that you probably once knew, but forgot at some point after those initial classes where your instructor was teaching similes and metaphors.

Similes are comparisons that contain the words like and as. You can think of them as metaphors, but those two little words are what make them similes.

By Drentel — On May 22, 2014

I agree with the article when it says that to teach metaphors effectively you need to make sure the teaching process lasts more than a class or a few weeks, When I was in school, we were taught metaphors, similes and hyperbole in one lessen that lasted a week.

I might have known the differences among all of them at some point during that week when we studied them. I knew them well enough to pass the test anyway. However, to this day, I cannot consistently tell the difference between metaphors and similes when I see them in writing.

When you learn something just to do well on the test, and you don't use it consistently afterward then you probably won't retain the information. I certainly did not in the case of teaching similes and metaphors.

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