They Just Don’t Get It

I introduced my seventh-graders to metaphors Monday, using several short poems, including Langston Hughes’ “The City,” in which a great metropolis “spreads its wings.”

“What spreads its wings?” I asked.

“The city,” one student replied.

“No, no, I mean in nature. What creature spreads its wings?”

“Oh, a bird.”

“Exactly! And here in this poem Langston Hughes is giving us a picture of the city as a great big bird spreading its wings. Notice that he doesn’t say that the city is like a bird spreading its wings. If he had said that, he would have been using a simile. He just says that the city spreads its wings—a metaphor—and he gives us a picture in our heads of a bird, without even saying the word bird.”

I thought a simple exercise would help enhance my students’ understanding of metaphors. Together we answered seven questions, including these:

If we say that somebody is a volcano ready to explode, we really mean that …

When we say someone is a pig we really mean that he or she is …

Next, I showed the kids how to construct their own metaphors, writing nearly 20 examples on the board.

Finally, I turned them loose to write five metaphors on their own, using the following prompts:

(fat) She is ______________

(thin) He is_______________

(evil) She is ______________

(kind) He is ______________

(ugly) She is _____________

J-Boy turned in a blank paper. T-Boy and several others wrote: She is a thin. He is a fat. She is a evil. He is a ugly. She is a kind.

Only C-Girl came close to understanding how to put together a metaphor. She described a fat person this way: She is a elephant. Of the thin person she wrote: He is a stick.

Clearly, I have my work cut out for me, because even after three days of direct instruction and guided practice in writing metaphors, my students still don’t get it.

Posted on November 4, 2009, in figurative language, metaphors, re-teaching. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. I know the feeling. I was just about to write about my experience with algebra class today.

  2. Could you do similes first? The clue “like” actually might help…maybe? You do have your work cut out for you!

  3. With my 4th graders, I use the “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” video from the Dr. Seuss movie. It’s full of metaphors and even has a few similes. I print the lyrics out and show them the video a few times, and they circle the metaphors and underline the similes. It at least engages them, and most of them do end up getting it.

  4. It’s “nice” to know I’m not alone! My 7th graders are working on complete sentences! The apathy gets to me sometimes.

    The powers that be want to give every student that gets an A or B honor roll certificates EVEN IF those grades are for a 3rd or 4th grade level work (intervention program…below grade level). Now I’m the bad person because I said that would make those awards meaningless. If they need encouragement, give them a certificate of progress in the classroom…NOT in an awards ceremony. If they want to be on the honor roll then they have to get off their duff and earn it.

    sigh…I’m tired.

  5. I’m tired too. My kids are lazy. Yesterday I taught greatest common factors. They got it, understood it, and in whole group they got all the answers right. But on their practice work even my smart kids bombed. They stopped doing the work as soon as they found a common factor even though I stressed over and over it has to be the largest factor the numbers share.


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