In my last piece, I talked about teaching children how to “show not tell” using visual metaphors. In this piece, I wanted to jump right into teaching children how to show using conventional and creative metaphors, but upon further review of the two types, I think we should stick to conventional metaphors, as creative metaphors are fairly abstract, and do take more mature minds to comprehend.
But here are two quick definitions:
According to About.com, a conventional metaphor is:
“A familiar comparison that does not call attention to itself as a figure of speech.“
Here are a few examples of conventional, just to help us know where to start:
• “His temperature went up.”
• “The work keeps piling up.”
• “I’m a night owl…she’s an early bird…”
• “Life is a journey.” [For kids, you could say “Life is a field trip: Have fun, stay together, and don’t get lost.]
Notice how these metaphors call attention to themselves, meaning, they’re OBVIOUSLY figures of speech, and no one—not even children—would think a person is really a night owl, or that life is a journey or field trip!
Contrast with creative metaphor, just to show you how bizarre they truly can be, I’ve included three examples so you know I’m not trying to get out of teaching creative metaphors. Ha! Creative metaphor is defined as:
“An original comparison, which does call attention to itself, as a figure of speech.”
Here are a few creative metaphors to look at. I took these straight off About.com’s examples page, as I couldn’t think of any of my own; perhaps you can create some of your own after reading these:
• “Her tall black-suited body seemed to carve its way through the crowded room.”
(Josephine Hart, Damage, 1991)
• “Fear is a slinking cat I find, Beneath the lilacs of my mind.”
(Sophie Tunnell, “Fear”)
• “The apparition of these faces in the crowd; petals on a wet, black bough.”
(Ezra Pound, “In a Station of the Metro”)
See what I mean? Weird, hunh?
Now…to teach children how to show using conventional metaphors I, of course, assert it’s best to begin using metaphors the kids are likely to have heard many times before [again, with blatant explanation of how they make sense, using LOOK, ASK, DECIDE, and FIND. Let’s stick with the examples above and build on those.
Let’s take a variation on “his temperature went up”, which meaning could be confused meaning he got a fever, and say…
Jim suddenly got hotheaded.
[Some coaxing here, to direct kids’ thoughts might be needed.
You could say…
“Have you ever watched a cartoon where, say, Daffy Duck, gets really mad and his face turns red and steam comes out of his ears? That looks like his head is getting hot, doesn’t it? So let’s pretend this man or boy, Jim, gets mad suddenly, so we say his head ‘got hot’, okay?”
You then might want to help kids realize people do things like clench their teeth, stomp their feet [they’ll know this], slam things down, or throw things, or yell when angry. Invite them to list things they might notice people doing or happening when they get mad.
So with that image in mind, your kids can “LOOK” [picture in their minds] Jim with a red face, jaw muscles flexing, nostrils flaring, etc. So let’s show, in steps, how Jim could “be” and angry bull, for example:
Jim was an angry bull.
Jim was breathing and grunting.
Jim’s nostrils flared with his loud breathing.
Jim paced back and forth.
Jim looked like he was ready to charge at someone.
Jim was an angry, snorting and panting bull, pacing back and forth, looking as if he was about to charge at someone.
Then, using LOOK, ASK, DECIDE, and FIND, your kids can build upon the elements there that will make up their stories.
ONE WORD OF GENTLE CAUTION TO ADULTS/TEACHERS/PARENTS: Don’t worry about kids coming up with ridiculous “reasons” to satisfy LOOK, ASK, DECIDE, and FIND; so long as they give reasons to explain—the most important thing—they’ll eventually come up with realistic, feasible, and engaging reasons that make for good storyshowing. For now, we want them to become familiar with what metaphor is, and then be able to create some basic metaphors of their own, or at least be able to identify metaphors easily.
Next up: How To “Show” “Less Is More”