Metaphor Magic: 5 Fun Ways to Practice Figurative Language

Inside: How to teach metaphors through books, games, and other activities.

I have collected loads of activities for my reading groups over the past 30 years. However, most of my activities are geared toward students learning phonics, fluency, and basic comprehension. When it comes to challenging my higher readers, I have to dig a little deeper.

They already know all the phonics rules.

They can retell in a snap.

They have basic inferences down pat.

What can a teacher do to keep her her higher readers challenged and growing? Luckily, I spent time teaching intermediate grades, so I have activities to pull from. One of the ways I like to challenge my second graders is to incorporate figurative language activities.

Because metaphors are a new concept, students in the small group tend to lean in a little closer and a little more excitedly to make sure they take it all in.

If you are teaching fourth or fifth grade, even better. These activities align with your figurative language standards!

Metaphors can be Maddening

Teaching metaphors is a great way to challenge your readers, but they are tricky to teach.

  • Metaphors are abstract, making connections difficult.
  • It can be difficult to assess understanding.
  • Students have limited exposure.
  • They aren’t always culturally relevant.
  • Students get hung up on what they think it should mean.

All of these factors can make learning metaphors difficult and applying them can feel impossible. We want to avoid the look of terror when students first attempt to understand this abstract concept.

This boy needs some clarification on metaphors!
Metaphors don’t have to cause panic. Photo by Syda Productions

1. Start Here

When you first introduce metaphors, your students may be confused.

“Why would you call something something else?”

It is important to provide lots of examples as well as nonexamples. You can do this through sharing on a white board, notebooks, or using a more formal presentation.

Each example provides the opportunity to explain the true meaning.

This Metaphor presentation is the perfect way to introduce your students to metaphors
You can check out the entire presentation here.

2. A Foul Mentor Text

Nothing beats a good mentor text to put figurative language in context. However, mentor texts don’t have to come in the form of books.

Using a song can put some life into your lessons.

“The Grinch” is full of figurative language, including vivid metaphors. The best part is seeing my students’ disgusted faces as they take a close look at the words. Who wouldn’t wrinkle their nose a bit with lines like, “You got termites in your smile.”

Try using The Grinch to help your students identify lots of different figurative language.
Guaranteed your students will love this one!

You’ll find this song is full of figurative language: similes, metaphors, and vivid description (almost too vivid).

How could you use “The Grinch”?

  1. List to the song. Students clap when they hear a metaphor and snap when they hear a simile.
  2. Highlight figurative language in different colors: similes, metaphors, imagery.
  3. Illustrate the Grinch, showing as much of the description as you can.

3. Gamify Your Figurative Language Practice

Bonus: At the end of this post, you will find free Metaphor Story Cards that match the metaphors used in the dice game below.

Gamifying can take away some of the stress of teaching an abstract concept. You never hear students complain about coming up to your table to play a game.

Great Games to try:

  1. Make a Memory Game with metaphors and their meanings
  2. Write six metaphors. Students roll a dice and explain the meaning of the given metaphor.
  3. Lay cards with metaphors on a table. share a situation. Your students have to find the metaphor that matches the situation.
  4. Try some ready-made games to make your life easier!
Metaphor games can make figurative language practice more fun.
Click here to learn details about these games.

4. Lots of Practice

The more exposure students have to different metaphors, the more likely they are to solidify their understanding.

Looking for some easy ways to integrate metaphor practice in your classroom?

  • Refer to anchor charts.
  • Point out metaphors when you come across them in read alouds.
  • Try “Figurative Language Friday” and discuss a different piece of figurative language each week.
  • Give students a picture and have them think of a metaphor.
  • Give half your class a card with a metaphor and the other half the definitions. Students have to find their match.
  • Students can jot metaphors from their independent reading in a notebook.
  • You can create an interactive poster in your room for students to record share figurative language they find in their reading.

Once your students have a solid understanding of metaphors, they will notice when they pop up in their daily reading. This certainly helps keep students engaged during independent reading time.

Your students will also benefit from more formal metaphor practice.

Your students can practice with a variety of paper/pencil tasks for

  • Morning Work
  • Homework
  • Partner Work
  • Assessment
  • Independent Work
  • Spiral Review

You can click here for additional metaphor practice that includes everything you see below, plus much more!

No-prep printable metaphor practice.
See all these, plus lots more by clicking here.

5. Practice Without Paper

Digital activities make a great option! During independent time, I often assign activities through Google Classroom. This allows me to easily meet the needs of all my students.

You can use Google Slides to front load your figurative language groups and/or other activities to provide them with independent practice.

Although my students love to read, it’s inevitable that I hear at least one, “Yes!” when I give one of my groups a digital assignment.

Digital Activities are great for independent practice and frontloading.
Ready to go digital? Click here.

Find Out More

Check out the links below to learn more about any of the products mentioned in this post. All sets integrate similes, metaphors, and idioms, providing you with a wide range of figurative language activities to use in your classroom.

Interactive Introduction

A strong introduction doesn’t do you any good if no one is paying attention. With fun graphics and immediate feedback, this interactive PowerPoint and Google Slides presentation will keep your students involved from start to finish.

Break Free From Literal thinking!

Watch your students’ language skills grow as they practice identifying and formulating similes, metaphors, and idioms. Your students will combine their imaginations with a variety of hands-on, paper/pencil, and digital activities.

Sharpen language skills!

Time to focus on meaning. With a variety of games, worksheets, and digital options, students will remember these idioms, similes, and metaphors long after the bell rings! From class games to individual assessments, your students will understand metaphors in no time.

From boring to brilliant!

This bundle is for those who want it all! Say goodbye to boring language drills. Start with the interactive presentation of your choice. Your students will learn soon to differentiate the different types of figurative language. Then, you can move on to a wide variety of worksheets, centers, games, and assessments to put it all together.

Make it Meaningful

One of the best ways for students to practice metaphors is by seeing them in relatable context.

By filling out the form below, you can have my FREE Metaphor Story Cards delivered straight to your inbox. These cards were designed to help you transform abstract metaphors into relatable language.

What’s included?

  • 24 story cards with metaphors in the context of relatable stories
  • Print-friendly version of the story cards
  • Suggestions that your whole class will enjoy

What types of metaphor activities do you use in your classroom? Please share your ideas in the comments.

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Teaching blogger for elementary teachers

Mary Wingert, licensed educator (K-12 Special Ed. & 1-8 General Ed)

I started teaching in 1993.   I have taught special education, fifth grade, and fourth grade.  I moved to second grade in 2015, and I am still there today.  

I believe in teaching strategies that are effective, differentiated, and engaging. I am looking forward to building a community of teachers who feels the same!  Read more here.