by Amber Hodgson, M.A., CCC-SLP
A metaphor is simply a way to compare two things in order to suggest a
resemblance, or likeness. Metaphors are one type of figurative language. Figurative
language helps to make writing or speaking more interesting by making unusual
comparisons. These comparisons create pictures in the mind of the reader or listener.
The opposite of figurative language is literal language, or meaning exactly
what a person says. For example, a person uses literal language by saying, “Her
news was difficult to accept.” However, this sentence becomes figurative
if it changes to the metaphor, “Her news was difficult to swallow.” The
sentence is now a more creative and interesting way of communicating the literal
language of “difficult to accept.” Some other examples of metaphors include:
- Our backyard was a blanket of snow.
- It’s a refrigerator in here!
- We hatched a great plan.
- My older brother is a night owl.
- She had the weight of the world on her shoulders.
All of these sentences communicate ideas that cannot literally be true.
A person could never actually hold the physical weight of the world, but
this metaphor gives a more interesting image of “feeling burdened.” A metaphor can
also give a better understanding of unknown vocabulary words. For example, if children
do not know the word “burden,” this metaphor can increase their understanding by
helping them to picture the description in their minds.
How to Teach Metaphors
One way to teach metaphors involves choosing one noun or idea to be the subject.
If the subject is love, for example, have the children think of words to
describe love. Love is sweet, happy, kind, beautiful, etc. Then, take one of the
descriptive words, like beautiful, and have the children think of things that represent
beauty, like flowers, sunsets, mountains, etc. Finally, have the children put love
with one of the descriptions of beauty to get a unique, interesting metaphor, like
“Love is a red rose.”
Teaching the difference between metaphors and other kinds of figurative language
is also important. For example, many people confuse metaphors with similes. A simile
is another type of figurative language that also makes a comparison between two
unrelated objects, but it is much easier to spot a simile. A simile uses the words
“like” or “as” to make comparisons. “His hands were as cold as ice,” and
“The boy ate like a pig!” are examples of similes.
By teaching children how to understand and use metaphors, parents and educators
can help children to develop their creativity. Metaphors can also help children
understand an idea better than the literal words alone can. Plus, they encourage
the readers or listeners to use their imaginations! Overall, knowing metaphors helps
children to communicate effectively and interact socially with others at home, at
school, and in the community!