If you could watch a student’s writing progression from first grade through middle school, it might look something like this:
“See Jane run.”
“See Jane run fast after the ball.”
“See Jane run as fast as lightning across the field after the ball.”
The last sentence contains a literary device known as a simile and it takes literal meaning to abstract expression. Around the time students hit middle school, they quickly learn what similes are about. Similes, metaphors and personification are all devices that make words jump off the page with character and personality and equally important, help students grasp the full meaning of a passage.
Here is a quick review of these three literary terms:
Metaphors – Metaphors are comparisons of two dissimilar things as if they were actually the same. “Mary is a diamond in the rough.” Is Mary really a lump of carbon waiting to be transformed into a sparking, precious stone? Of course not, but by linking Mary with a diamond in the rough, the message is clear – Mary hasn’t reached her full potential yet.
Similes – Similes are comparisons of two dissimilar things using “like” or “as.” For example, “She’s as neat as a pin,” Mark runs like the wind.”
Personification – Personification assigns human qualities to inanimate objects. “Time waits for no one.”
Learning how to use these literary devices isn’t difficult. It just takes practice. Most all students have heard popular cliches before, but they don’t know that many are actually similes and metaphors. To help them understand such literary devices and learn to decipher their meaning in reading, here are a few fun activities.
Create a poem of metaphors – Have students write a poem to describe their favorite vacation. First, ask students to describe what the trip was like, what sights they saw, etc. For example, “The airplane ride was fun but a little bumpy.” “The Grand Canyon is a hole in the ground.”
Plan a menu using similes – Students will get a kick out of practicing similes with this activity. The students plan a meal but must use similes to describe what’s on the menu. The meal can consist of anything they like. How about cotton candy as fluffy as clouds, or a hot dog as long as a baseball bat? Not only does this activity foster creativity, it’s a great way to add some fun into learning about similes.
Personification – If you remember the classic movie “The Wizard of Oz,” everything and everyone had a voice. The lion, the scarecrow, the tin man and even the trees could talk. Have students personify objects in the classroom. If a chair were a person, what would it think about people sitting on top of it all day long?
Advertising – Create a new advertisement for a product using a metaphors or similes. “Try Gembright for a smile that sparkles like diamonds.”
Posters – Choose a popular figure of speech phrase and create a poster that illustrates it. For example, “happy as a clam.”
Play charades – Play charades with similes and metaphors. Have students come to the front of the class and act out a simile such as “mad as a hornet,” or “hungry as a bear.”
Choose a few (or all!) of these activities and students can’t help but get the hang of popular literary devices. Before you know it, they’ll think using similes and metaphors is a piece of cake!