Posts Tagged ‘Teaching Children’

How to Show Using Conventional Metaphors

Tuesday, May 18th, 2010

Teaching children metaphorIn 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, 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’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”

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

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.’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 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.

Show Me a Smile…er…Simile!

Tuesday, March 30th, 2010
Use Simile to Show Not Tell

How To Show Simile?

I don’t recall what grade I was in when I first heard about simile or metaphor.  I’ll be honest, I’ve pretty much neglected—up until recently, that is—seeking a better understanding of metaphor, and perhaps, in part, because it’s always been easy to remember what a simile is.

I’ll get to metaphor some other day and, suffice it say [in my opinion], metaphor is very similar to simile, but instead of comparing by saying something is “like”, “as”, (or is similar too; you can also throw in “than”), we flat out say it IS [something it really isn't.]

But please be patient; I’ll get to some simple metaphors next time.

In school we were told, “Simile is a device in literature used to compare two things that aren’t alike, by using the words ‘like’ or ‘as.’”

Most of us can rattle off similes without much problem.

A few quick examples would be:

• She runs like a gazelle.
• He wiggles like a worm.
• He’s as sharp as a tack.
• Thoughts flowing like/as water.
• Bigger
than a bear.
• More powerful
than a locomotive [recognize that one?]

I say simile is the first real step to storyshowing [not a recognized word, by the way] we can readily teach to our children or students, because it’s easy to use the experience association inherent to simile.  What I mean is, we can’t compare something, using simile, if we haven’t made the observation ourselves, through experience, or at least had someone point out the similarities to us; kids will make their own associations and, when teaching “show don’t tell”, it’s best to build on those associations you know kids will have made rather than something an adult would.

Simile, in my estimation should be easy to teach to kids, because kids naturally use simile in their day-to-day speech, which they learn, of course, from mom and dad, friends, classmates, and teachers:

“You look like a princess!”
“Your house looks like a castle!”
“Eww! Your feet smell like rotten eggs!”
“You’re as smart as scientist!”
“She’s as pretty as a movie star.”

In truth, kids do pick up such expressions, mostly, from adults or other kids who picked them up from adults!  But sometimes, kids come up with their own, cute, quirky, and often humorous expressions of simile of their own:

“That man’s shoes are as big as a circus clown’s!”
“When Nastassja twirls, her pigtails look like whizzing helicopter blades!

Aren’t those more vivid than “The man had big feet”, and, “When she spins, her pigtails stick almost straight out!”?

And since it’s not necessarily hard to get kids to come up with examples of simile, it is important to get them thinking about WHY we make such comparisons and WHEN to use them in creative writing [or speaking].

And keep in mind: gaining these skills won’t only benefit your kids when they write or speak creatively while in school and such; having skills like these will greatly assist them throughout life, and achieving excellence in these will build confidence that will fuel all of your children’s life endeavors [hopefully, of course, only for good.]

So how do we teach kids how to effectively use simile in storyshowing?  Again, let’s not over think things, and just apply those same principles I covered in my previous posts on this subject.  But if you have yet to read those and don’t want to click away, here’s a brief synopsis:

• 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.

Now…onto teaching kids how to use simile to “show instead of tell.”

In my other posts, my examples were still—admittedly, for the most part—examples an adult would be more likely to use than a child, so I’ll use one of the quirky “child” examples I used above [I actually thought them up, trying to think what a kid might say]; you can write down those you hear the children in your life say, and build on those, using these exercises.

So here goes:

“That man’s shoes are as big as a circus clown’s!”

Now, maybe, in real life, a man with such humongous shoes is also very tall and there’s probably no real “secret story” to discover, but in creating stories, it’s okay to imagine one.

Maybe this man had an emergency foot transplant, and the only feet available were from a clown who had been killed by an elephant that sat on him!  There…we’ve just covered LOOK, ASK, DECIDE, and we’ve begun to FIND words to explain how your child’s decisions are reasonable [again…for fiction; stories don’t have to always be truly reasonable].  So let’s take my peculiar scenario here and come up with a bit of vivid imagery.

The man’s feet looked like they had been taken from a clown whose feet had been run over by a steamroller.  The look on the man’s face, when he walked, made it obvious he was in pain, and as I noticed the bloody bandages around his ankles I wondered if he had had a foot transplant and ended up with giant clown feet instead of the right size for his body.

I admit my description, here, is pretty ridiculous, but that’s okay; you WANT to encourage zany, far-fetched thinking when teaching storyshowing!   Let’s embellish the next “kid” example:

When Nastassja twirls, her pigtails look like whizzing helicopter blades!

So what might be Nastassja’s secret story?  You might say Nastassja has had ballet lessons or figure skating experience.  Those are pretty good, but let’s really let our imaginations run wild.  Perhaps Nastassja is really the daughter of a once-famous, Russian, ballerina mother, and has been taught ballet since she could walk.

Notice how I’ve created a secret story for Nastassja that almost immediately takes care of LOOK, ASK, & DECIDE?  It appears that way because I have practiced LOOK, ASK, and DECIDE for many years, and I only recently identified these “steps” for the sake of these exercises; it’s not like I’m some sort of genius, here!  So let’s jazz up Nastassja’s story a bit more.

Nastassja looked like a ballerina or ice skater when she twirled.  Her swirling pigtails reminded us of a golden halo or helicopter blades that swished the air, and her face was almost as blurry as hummingbird wings.

Do you see how the use of simile here calls up more vivid imagery in your mind than the first sentence?  Of course, my description, here, deals only with Nastassja’s twirling and her pigtails.  If you were writing more about the girl, you could encourage your child or student to think more about Nastassja’s secret story: what does Nastassja’s voice sound like?  Does she have an accent?  Be careful encouraging kids to get TOO descriptive, though; experienced book publishers will tell you a few, choice phrases often do more to ignite readers’ imaginations, rather than giving SO much detail the reader’s mind has no fun in completing the mental picture!

Remember, when teaching kids the use of simile in storyshowing, to use comparisons that make sense, too.  For example, you wouldn’t say, “The man’s feet were as big as throw cushions.” People wouldn’t normally make such a comparison, would they?  Even kids tend to make comparisons that make sense [to their minds] because the comparisons that come to mind makes sense to them and remind them of something else.   Also keep in mind, when teaching children the use of simile in creative writing, to “borrow” from experiences of their own—it will make for much livelier storyshowing.

Next up: “What is Meta Phor?”