Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Taking Metaphors Literally

Students before lunch are horses waiting to gallop to the cafeteria. Emma, 6th grade

Metaphors are strange when you think about them. They are wonderful in writing. They add impact, imagery, and vividness to our words. When Paul Simon says, "I am a rock. I am an island." We see his isolation and loneliness immediately. We understand that he is desperate to cut off his emotions, and to ever open himself up again for anyone to hurt. Metaphors help us instantly understand how someone else feels. They allow us to picture an image with clarity. However, imagining a metaphor literally, as in Paul Simon's head on a rock, or an island, is a little silly. Yet, perhaps it is this oddness, this shock of image, that truly gives a metaphor its power.

There are a few mistakes I see beginning writers make when they are trying to create metaphors. The first is to write a simile instead of a metaphor.  "I am a bear in the morning" becomes "I am like a bear in the morning", or "I am as cranky as bear in the morning." Metaphors are comparisons that do not use the words like or as. This is an easy fix, simply remove the words like or as from the line of poetry, and you have a metaphor.

I am a bear in the morning. Sara, 6th grade.

The second mistake is to forget to make a comparison. "My dad is tall." In this line, dad is not being compared to anything, he is just being described. I always ask students who write a description instead of a comparison to transform the line into a metaphor. I'll ask what are things that are tall besides your dad? "My dad is a tall skyscraper" or "My dad is a tall, sequoia tree." The line becomes a metaphor and an image is instantly evoked.

The final mistake I will often see is that the subject of the metaphor isn't compared to something different, but is compared to itself. For example, "The baseball bat is a piece of wood" or "The sun is hot, fiery gas in the sky". Here the student needs to stretch the image into something it is not. "The baseball bat is a bolt of lightning" or "The sun is a hot, fiery dragon in the sky."

The tree branches are huge worms. Myla, 6th grade

Regardless of the mistake, students sometimes just need a little practice to perfect the art of the metaphor. I like to collaborate as a class to think up as many metaphors as we can for a paper clip.  One of my all time favorites was, "A paperclip is shiny, silver robot ear."

Created using Seesaw.
Then I have the students finish some lines of poetry by making them into metaphors. I have had several versions of this activity, but I will share the beginnings of lines that seem to inspire the best metaphors out of my students.

Finish the Metaphor Activity.

After the students write their metaphors, I have them pick one to illustrate literally. Students choose a metaphor they can really picture in their heads and think of what a metaphor would look like if it happened in real life. So if you wrote the line, "My heart is a tomato" you might illustrate a girl with a tomato drawn in her ribcage where her heart should be.

The river is a blue ribbon waiting to be used! Jade, 6th grade
If you want to incorporate technology into this activity, or your students feel artistically challenged, as I often do, then try creating a digital, literal metaphor. Google Drawing, Google Slides, PicCollage, Seesaw, Storyboard That, and Autodraw are just a few apps I can think of off the top of my head that make everyone an artist.

Created with Google Drawing.
The illustrations my students have done over the years are brilliant and imaginative. They do exactly what a metaphor is supposed to do, leave you with a lasting and unique image. Metaphors transform thoughts into poetry, and paint a picture in the mind.

The black bird is a dark world. Sarah, 6th grade

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