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]