Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Teaching Figurative Language

Top of the morning to you on this Tuesday after Thanksgiving. I hope your week is off to a wonderful start, and I want to wish you a very happy December!

I don't know about you, but December always seems a little bittersweet to me. There's the nostalgia of past Christmases, the realization that my time with this group of students is nearly half over, and the awareness that this is the last month of the "leisurely" stretch of our pacing guide.

RRRRrrrrrkkkkk! And just like an irritating scratch on an old vinyl record, the holiday mood is rudely interrupted by the thought of heavy test prep when we return from the holiday break.

But wait! Instead of being the proverbial party pooper, I'm here to offer tidings of comfort and joy! I'm about to offer you a sweet little nugget of wisdom that enables me to enjoy my two weeks off without dreading January.

Here's my best kept test prep secret: I start preparing my kiddos before we leave on break.

No, I'm not the grinch, and no, the kids don't mind. In fact, they don't even know that we are doing test prep. I strive to make it a December to remember, and the holidays lend themselves beautifully to fun activities--especially those revolving around figurative language.

I don't know about the tests your kiddos take, but our reading tests are pretty heavy on figurative language. If the kids don't have that down by the time they test in March, their chances of doing exceptionally well are pretty much slim to none.

Once the holiday break hits, I like the majority of my students to have figurative language down pat. They can define each of the devices, find examples in literature, and incorporate it in their own writing. 

Whether I've taught 4th grade or 8th grade, my methods are the same. And so I'm offering this simple phase...

See what I did there? Any Nat King Cole fans out there?

Okay, back on track. Here are my tried and true methods for teaching figurative language.

1. Go over the definitions...often. Kids can't identify or effectively use what they don't know. In fourth grade, we work on math facts like it's their job (which it kind of is), but we also go over figurative language definitions, too.

For example, when they're standing in line waiting to go in from recess, I will ask for someone to tell us what we call a comparison between two unlike things using "like" or "as." (The added bonus of standing outside a little longer certainly doesn't hurt.)

I also have figurative language mini posters displayed in a prominent spot in our classroom, and we refer to them often. I like to change them up to match our seasonal decor, so I have LOTS of different sets. (I believe they are all listed in this sub-section of my store.)

The information listed on them is exactly the same, but the backgrounds are different to match our decor and mood. When I was in college, one of my professors told us that the average bulletin board is only effective at capturing attention for two to three weeks, max. Isn't that the truth? How many displays do we walk by in our schools and we don't even pause to read them anymore? My classroom is so teeny, tiny that every square inch of that baby has to be effective real estate! By changing the posters often, that area catches the kids' eyes and they take the time to read the information, even if they already know what it says based on the previous versions. 

BTW, the pineapple version is my favorite. 🍍

2. Give students LOTS of practice finding examples of figurative language.

Once my students have the definitions down, we start applying that knowledge by looking at sample sentences. You can use worksheets or you can create your own sentences. I turned some of my sentences into a gallery walk that my students just LOVE doing at the beginning of the year! (It is available here if you're interested.)

Once the kids are comfortable and consistent with identifying examples in isolated sentences, it's time to move on to excerpts from REAL literature!

Again, I have many samples I have pulled over the years for students to practice on. In order to share all of these great examples, I have created other figurative language gallery walks (available in my TpT store), and interactive sets (available in my BOOM store at Boom Learning℠).  😀

As I mentioned earlier, the holidays are the perfect time of year to practice finding examples of figurative language. Many traditional songs, stories, and movies contain a treasure trove of these gems!

I can't tell you how thrilling it is to have a fourth grader come back from music class just ecstatic that they discovered alliteration in "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" and "Walking in a Winter Wonderland!" Of course, I let them think that no one else has ever made that discovery and that he/she is an absolute genius. 

And then the race is on, my friends. The. race. is. ON! Those kids are going to find examples in print and media no matter what. One mother reported to me that the family has learned so much about figurative language because her child feels the need to point out every. single. example in every song played on the radio. LOL 

(Side note: We also do "Music Monday"--or "Tune Tuesday" if we forget--most weeks. That little adventure deserves an entire post of its own, so stay tuned!)

3. Require the use of figurative language in writing assignments. This isn't a legalistic intention at all, but like many newly acquired skills, if students aren't made to use it, they won't. I ask students to include at least ONE example of figurative language in any narrative writing that we do, and they need to highlight or underline it. That's an easy enough requirement that anyone can do and many choose to do more. This practice teaches kids to apply the devices effectively and to balance its use in their writing. Nobody wants to read a whole page of figurative language strung together, but everyone can appreciate the well-placed example that helps illustrate a point.

The 7th graders in my district are required to read A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens each year. We always have a lively debate after reading it if Dickens effectively used figurative language or if he overused it. Most kids point out the extremely verbose passages about the marketplace as their evidence...

By the by, have YOU noticed all the examples of figurative language I've strung throughout this post? 😂


I hope this gives you some practical ideas and some hope about the upcoming test season. My students absolutely LOVE using figurative language and that offers me a thrill of hope as this weary woman rejoices during the holiday season.

Until next time, friends!

BTW, if your students are currently reading the very verbose work by Mr. Dickens, I have culled FIFTY-SEVEN examples of figurative language from that little novella of his. They are arranged in order by stave, so it's a fun activity to do after each chapter. I have a standard set available here and a two-pack differentiated pack (one set has helpful hints underlined) here.

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