Category Archives: metaphors

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.

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