Archive for April, 2010

How To Show With Visual Metaphors

Wednesday, April 21st, 2010
How to Teach Visual Metaphor

Life as a visual metaphor

Hopefully, by now, your students are beginning to gain at least a smidgeon of confidence in storyshowing—or showing not telling—using simile and Dead Metaphor.   Let them use all of the corny, hackneyed metaphors their young minds care to pull out; they can refine their skills over time.  I don’t see any point in explaining about tenor and vehicle, the two aspects of metaphor, until, perhaps, high school.

Now let’s explore Visual Metaphors and get some practice using them and hopefully begin to use a few in creative writing.  Another fun approach is to challenge your kids to try to use metaphor in their day-to-day conversations; perhaps, 3 times within a week, or once a day.  As they begin to become familiar with using them, their understanding of the concepts will grow exponentially.

A technical definition of a visual metaphor is

“The representation of a person, place, thing, or idea by way of a visual image that suggests a particular association or point of similarity.”

So let’s jump in with teaching “show don’t tell” with visual metaphors, shall we?  Your students aren’t likely to have the benefit of actual pictures in their stories—we’re hoping to teach them how to “show and not tell” with words, after all—so encourage them to continue practicing LOOK, ASK, DECIDE, and FIND.

Here’s a refresher on LOOK, ASK, DECIDE, and FIND:

• LOOK for “ The Secret Story.”
• ASK why things are the way they are.
• DECIDE on reasons for why things PROBABLY are the way they are.
• FIND words to explain how your decisions make sense.

Some examples of visual metaphors could be…

• A sports car with a cheetah lounging on the hood, suggesting the “wildness” and speed of the sports car is comparable to the cheetah.
• The image of a “family tree.”
• A white dove associated with Peace.
• The symbols on your remote control indicating Play, Rewind, Fast-Forward, and Stop, are all visual metaphors.
• One your kids are probably familiar with is the cartoon character looking angry, a dark cloud overhead.
• Everyone is familiar with the image of a light bulb, lit up, over someone’s head as representing that person having just gotten a “bright idea” [“bright idea” is a visual metaphor in word form.]
• The red octagon without the word “Stop” printed across the color field is a visual metaphor that has become pretty much universal for that action [Stop] along roadways around the world.

Let’s take one of those and see if we can’t “show” and bring about understanding that conjures up vivid visual imagery in our minds.  I like the cartoon character example for our development study; it provides a captivating image to begin with, to keep kids interested, and there are lots of details we can borrow from nature that children should be able to comprehend.   Again, I suggest creating with simile first, keeping LOOK, ASK, DECIDE, and FIND…in mind.

Simile: Jim’s mood was like a black, threatening rain cloud.
Simile: Jim’s thoughts were like a thick, dark forest at night.
Simile: Jim’s attitude cleared up like the sun breaking through the clouds.
Dead [Visual] Metaphor: Jim’s face brightened.

Now let’s improve that metaphor a little bit at a time.  Get your students to imagine—in this instance—a boy [named Jim] with a look on his face like he was unhappy, but then suddenly something happened to make him happy.   Then, have your students apply LOOK, ASK, DECIDE, and FIND; you might turn the LOOK, ASK, DECIDE, and FIND steps into a poster that remains on your classroom wall so students can readily go over the steps until they become second nature to them.

LOOK for Jim’s Secret Story.  What might his face look like BEFORE he gets his idea?   Maybe Jim could look perplexed, bored, frustrated, or sad.  ASK questions to explore possibilities.   DECIDE what Jim’s Secret Story is, and—in this case—what’s causing his mood.  Reaching these conclusions will greatly assist your students in FIND-ing words to describe what they will write.   You might also need to help them with ASK-ing probing questions to discover (or create) the depth of Jim’s Secret Story.

So Jim’s Secret Story might be revealed something like this:

1. Jim’s mood was a gathering storm.
2. Jim’s eyes were heavy thunderclouds.
3. Jim’s dark expression brightened.
4. Jim’s stormy mood blew
away.

That’s probably enough for now.   Let’s combine those elements for a vivid image that really shows.  And since we’re graduating our students, so to speak, from simile to metaphor, why not incorporate some simile in our “finished product” to help out with our storyshowing?

Here’s what I have thrown together:

Jim’s frustration was a dark haze gathering into a threatening storm; his eyes were like heavy rainclouds ready to burst. But then, all of the sudden, the thick fog seemed to lift, the thunderclouds in his mind were burned away by a bright thought, like the sun breaking up dark and frightening thunderheads.

This example should cause your students to ask even more questions; the most logical being, what thought did Jim have to change his mood so suddenly?  I don’t expect kids to come up with something so…intense as this, but I just wanted to show how various, observed [FOUND/DECIDED] upon elements can be included in the showing.

You might want to get your kids started on this by showing some common, visual metaphors—maybe even display some posters or other pictures—and then help them think of as many as possible; drilling on these will awaken an awareness in your students, and they’ll begin to notice metaphor(s) all over the place!  Children are intelligent; they just need some stimulation to get started!

Next up: Conventional and Creative Metaphors.

How To Teach Children Metaphor (Part Two)

Friday, April 16th, 2010
Dead Metaphor

"She's a Flower" is an example of Dead Metaphor

I said, in a previous post, metaphor is coming right out and saying something IS, versus simile, where we make a comparison using the words “like”, “as”, and “than.”  So to get your child or students started, you’ll want to begin with some simple metaphors, preceded by familiar similes, with much explanation, of course.

First of all, let’s read a “textbook” definition of metaphor.

About.com’s definition of a metaphor is:

“…a figure of speech in which an implied comparison is made between two unlike things that actually have something important in common. The word metaphor itself is a metaphor, coming from a Greek word meaning to “transfer” or “carry across.” Metaphors “carry” meaning from one word, image, or idea to another.”

But isn’t that definition about as easy to understand, for a kid, as when their teacher first says, “Show me, don’t tell me”?  We have to start by giving examples, and getting kids to think about WHY the seemingly NON-apparent things in common or similarities make sense.  LOOK, ASK, DECIDE, and FIND will be very important during these moments of discovery.

So…one example could be:

Simile: “Jennifer is as pretty as a flower in my garden.”
Metaphor: “Jennifer is a flower in the garden of my life.”

It shouldn’t be too difficult to get kids to understand a pretty girl can be thought of as being “as pretty as a flower” without actually looking LIKE a flower, but to explain how Jennifer could BE a flower in the “GARDEN” of someone’s life?  You have to initiate understanding of abstract concepts into kids’ minds by getting theme to associate a little bit at a time.  So to do this with the above example, you might create an interaction something like this [again; this just an example of a plausible exchange, not intended to be a script to follow, so please bear with]:

“How can a pretty girl ‘be’ a flower in a ‘garden’ of someone’s life?   Can a person really BE a flower?  Well, not really, of course, but the person is comparing his or her LIFE to a garden.  Garden’s have ALL SORTS of things in them, don’t they?  There are beautiful things and there are not so beautiful things.  There are flowers to enjoy, fruits and vegetables—sometimes—to eat, but there’s also dirt and bugs and wasps, gophers that damage the garden, and sometimes snakes, too right?  The bugs bother us.  The wasps can sting us.  The dirt can get in our shoes, or under our fingernails.  The snakes can scare us, or if they’re dangerous, they can bite and harm us, right?  Well, life is also filled with things that ‘bug’ or bother us, or hurt us, like a bite or a sting, or get us dirty, or cause other problems, right?  Life isn’t just made up of all pretty, fragrant, enjoyable or delicious things, now is it?  Well, in a similar way, a garden can be compared to a person’s life, which has all sorts of THINGS in it—some good, some not so good…even some bad things, like gophers that cause problems we might not see right away, or snakes.  Now imagine how a pretty girl—perhaps a man’s daughter, to him—could be LIKE a flower, but instead of saying ‘she’s LIKE a flower,’ he says she IS a flower, in the garden of his life.  He doesn’t really mean she’s an actual flower, but he is speaking in metaphor to make a comparison!”

I realize that’s quite an elaborate explanation, but we’re talking about kids here.  If your students are particularly precocious you can trim it down as you see fit to suit their ability to grasp the concept of metaphor in this regard.

In an effort to keep these posts shorter, I’ll approach the remaining three of the four, basic metaphors I mentioned in Part One, Visual, Conventional, & Creative in another post, since I’ve already touched upon the Dead metaphor here [Dead metaphors, I think, are good practice for helping kids to understand they’re familiar with metaphor, but might not realize it].

Just remember: our goal, here, in teaching children metaphor is to help them to learn how to use the device effectively to “show not tell” in writing.

Until next time!

[Next Up: How To Show With Visual Metaphors]

How To Teach Children Metaphor (Part One)

Monday, April 12th, 2010
Speak Metaphorically

How Do We Teach 'Metaphor' to Children?

[This piece was originally going to be titled: “Mom? What’s a ‘Meta’ For?” but I’ve decided to change the title of this portion of my series to a more practical—and search engine VISIBLE—one. ]

Teaching children how to “show not tell” using simile wasn’t so terribly difficult.

It’s really a matter of “thinking like a child” or paying attention to the things they say, the way they observe life, and then helping them think of examples that make sense.  Then once they get the hang of it and, after practicing LOOK, ASK, DECIDE, and FIND, they can begin to incorporate simile into their creative writing more regularly.   The use of the literary device, simile, really does aid in training children [or adults] to learn how to “show and not tell.”

But approaching metaphor with children will take more time, requiring more thought, and you’ll have to draw on many examples, because there are so many variations or types of metaphors [13 that I know of] to learn—many of them complex and abstract—and it will take years of using metaphors—consciously—to gain a real, functional skill in weaving them into one’s writing or manner of speech.  I say functional, because we all actually speak metaphorically almost every day, in life, without realizing it.

Here are a few examples:

1. The face of the mountain.
2. She broke my heart.
3. Life is a roller coaster.
4. I’m at the end of my rope.
5. He wore me down.
6. The daily grind.

Yes, those are ALL metaphors.  We usually call them “figures of speech,” but even I hadn’t thought of them as metaphors…until I started researching for this series, that is!

One quick note: I don’t think it’s a good idea to attempt to teach too many kinds of metaphor, at first; not until, at least, your student or child displays adeptness at coming up with metaphors that work well [there are abstract metaphors I’m STILL scratching my head over!]

So let’s start with just a few.  I’ve paraphrased definitions from this About.com piece: Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Metaphor—The Different Types of Metaphors.

Here are some basic metaphor types.

1. Dead Metaphor.  Those that we’ve used “to death” and have lost their impact or even meaningfulness.   The examples above are all dead metaphors.
2. Visual Metaphor.  Represents a person, place, thing, or idea by way of a visual image that suggests a particular association or point of similarity.
3. Conventional Metaphor.  A familiar comparison that doesn’t call attention to itself as a figure of speech.
4. Creative Metaphor.  An original comparison that DOES call attention to itself as a figure of speech.

I’ll start with the first one, Dead Metaphor; the other examples I’ll save for another day, and I’ll write shorter posts for #’s 3 & 4 in a separate lesson on ‘show don’t tell’, using those kinds of metaphors to accomplish good storyshowing.

Okay, let’s “take a stab” [metaphor!] at the first dead metaphor example for showing versus telling, and see if we can’t bring it back to life, and see if we can’t get your students’ thoughts in the right frame.

The front of the mountain was like the face of a monster. [Simile].
The face of the mountain was a terrible, grimacing monster breathing down on the village. [Metaphor]

Granted, the use of metaphor tends to call for more words and description, but you end up with a more vivid image, don’t you think?

Now for #2…

She broke my heart.  That’s a metaphor a child will probably have heard, so the correct, non-metaphorical statement would be…

She hurt my feelings, and made me very sad [since a person can’t literally break someone else’s heart, not without killing that person, right?]  And so once your students understand and recognize “she broke my heart” is a metaphor, but a dead—and NOT creative or original—metaphor, at that, you can help them DECIDE on a more creative, more “showy” metaphor (or simile) to use.  The verb ‘broke’ is kind of weak, too; plus, we’re not sure if ‘she’ intended to break the heart, or if she was unaware of what she’d done.

Let’s try something else that’s not only more dramatic, like…crushed or stomped on—or both—but also that answers questions about intent, and thus revealing more about her Secret Story:

She crushed my heart, like a dried leaf on the sidewalk, under her shoe.

Now let’s improve that and ‘show’ more with something like…

My heart was a dried leaf, on the sidewalk, on her walk through life, and she stepped on it, crushing it to dust.

Of course, with such an example, you’ll have to help kids “see” the reasoning behind why/how these make sense by maybe saying something like:

“Have you ever walked along the sidewalk, during autumn, and stepped on dead leaves?  They get crushed under your feet, don’t they?  And sometimes we don’t even notice it happen, do we?  Well, maybe this girl was so busy thinking about her own things, she wasn’t paying attention to the boy’s feelings, and ended up hurting his feelings—kind of like accidentally stepping on a dried leaf, and HE felt like she ‘crushed his heart’.  Maybe that can be their ‘Secret Story’ for you to tell.”

After a while, they’ll get the hang of thinking up metaphors all on their own; just keep them practicing.

I never said teaching metaphor to children would be a breeze, but my point is young kids—say, 3rd to 5th grade—CAN learn metaphor, and you CAN teach kids how to effectively “show, not tell” by taking on the challenge of understanding some simple metaphors, and using them in their writing.

Great Customer Service

Tuesday, April 6th, 2010
Great Customer Service is in March

GREAT Customer Service "in March"

[A local story]

I know, I know…is there really any such thing as “great customer service” anymore?  Our world today touts the importance of self and “looking out for number one”, that it seems even businesses act like they’re doing YOU a favor by existing for your convenience.  Have you noticed?  I have; and I have also noticed how virtually no one goes the extra distance, for the customer, to provide customer service.

Until today, Wednesday, April 7, 2010.

A while back, a band on one of my watches lost a pin that holds the band on, and I took it into a place in Northeast Mall, in Hurst that supposedly “fixes jewelry fast.”  I think you might be able to guess the name of this hole-in-the-wall place I’m talking about.  They wanted $19.95 to put in a new pin [something that HAS to cost, like, 11 cents], PLUS they wanted to charge me an extra $9.95 to clean my watch band [it’s steel] in their “sonic cleaner.”  Can you BELIEVE that?  YIKES!!   NO THANK YOU!

Well, I had jewelry in high school, and we used a sonic vibration cleaner, which used water and ammonia mixed, and vibrated at a high pitch. So, I declined the $30.00 gouge for a supposedly “fast fix”, went home, submerged my watch band(s) [I have two steel banded watches] in a plastic bowl of ammonia and water, turned on my Sonicare toothbrush and put it next to the bowl, and VOILA!! Within 2 to 3 minutes, the bands were clean, as I knew they would be.

So ANY way…

I went to JC Penney to hopefully get a new battery put in one watch, have the band tightened, and have the long-awaited [long sought-for in Wal-Mart and other jewelry departments around town] band pin put in, only to find out JC Penney only sends off watches, taking two days, and they ONLY put in watch batteries.  SIGH.

But the nice gal at JCP gave me the business card to March Jewelers, located at 1335 W. Pipeline, Hurst, TX 76053.

The guy said it would be $5.00 to put the pin in, tighten the band, which was loose and had kept coming unfastened, and to check the battery.  So I sat down on their nice, leather sofa, and waited.  Within a few minutes, he passed my watch to a nice lady and she told me, “He said your watch battery is still strong, and so he cleaned the contacts and put in the pin you asked for, so it’s five dollars.” When I pulled out my credit card [I had no cash at the time], she said, “Tell you what; just catch us next time.”

How nice was THAT?

I got great customer service, for FREE, expecting to pay somewhere between $5.00 and $15.00, as I thought I needed a new battery, and they got a new–and probably loyal–customer!

So if you need GREAT treatment for any kind of jewelry or watch repairs, stones set, or whatever in relation to jewelry, and you’re close to the Northeast Mall area, give them your business; they were all really nice people.  They’re located next to Movie Trading Company, just behind [south of] McDonald’s, on Pipeline Rd, there on the corner of Pipeline and N.E. Mall Blvd.  The Jewelers is next door to Ogle Beauty School, there on N.E. Mall Blvd.  You’re sure to get great customer service and treatment if you do.