Metaphors are one writing tool that kids have a lot of fun playing with. A simple definition for those of you who have forgotten your high school English class is that metaphors are language that compares seemingly unrelated subjects. Advertising, poetry, newspapers all abound in examples of metaphors. In casual conversation we might refer to an old boyfriend or girlfriend as an old flame, comparing the unrelated subjects of fire and love. Continuing on with that same metaphor love songs are full of fire and romance. i.e. burning love, kindling a romance, fiery passion. In recent news I heard a great metaphor describing Sarah Palin as a pitbull in lipstick.
The first step in this exercise is to go metaphor hunting. As you are reading, watching TV or looking at billboards see how many metaphors you can find. Newspaper headlines are actually a great place to look as reporters want to catch your attention with a strong visual to entice you to read the article. As your students become more proficient at spotting metaphors have them start a metaphor notebook. When they are writing they can refer to their notebooks for inspiration and spice up their own writing.
Once your kids have a firm handle on the idea of a metaphor you are ready to being inventing your own. Take a piece of paper and fold it in half. On the left side write a list of concrete nouns…rock, flood, ocean, pig etc. Then on the right hand column list intangible nouns. This will be a little harder for younger kids so feel free to help them out. Intangible nouns might be respect, desire, anger, or hunger.
Once you have your lists see if you can invent some creative metaphors with them. You will probably be using the tangible nouns to give clarity and a visual reality to an intangible noun.
We found respect for the soldiers flooding our hearts.
The young man’s anger solidified into a rock of hatred.
Depending on how well your children are grasping the concept you may need to continue repeating the definition and illustrating with metaphors that you find. Some children find the concept abstract enough that it takes some time to grasp what it is you are trying to get them to do. I’ve had students who were just using adjectives to describe a noun for several weeks and then all of a sudden the light bulb goes on and they understand. If they continue to struggle you may want to make the lesson more tangible. Pull an ice cube out of the freezer (or light a candle and use the flame) and have your children discuss the attributes of the ice, it’s cold and hard etc. Then have them think of something they could compare the ice to. Help them along if they are stumped…a cold stare, heart of ice. Help them grasp how helpful it is when they are writing to give a word like ‘stare’ or ‘anger’ physical characteristics that help the reader experience the word.
As kids become adept at spotting metaphors and making up their own they will begin to get more and more creative. There may come a time you need to reign them in a bit but for now allow the silly and ridiculous. Playing with words, having fun with writing will pay off later.