[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.