Teaching similes can be an abstract and sometimes difficult concept for some students, but it can also be incredibly fun and engaging. This is the opening lesson I've used for years with my 9th grade English students and I find that it gets them excited about figurative language as well as helps them to understand how the language works.
I always begin by bringing in two objects. Any two objects will work, but you might want to be intentional about what you bring in. For example, for the last class, I brought in a water bottle and an Ipod. With other classes, however, I've brought in a seedling in a planter box and a telephone. I try to use two objects that have something in common, but I also try to make the connection abstract enough that it takes them a few minutes to make the connection.
I start by placing a table in the middle of the room and then placing the objects on the table. I sit there for a minute and let the suspense build. By this time, they are all wondering what the heck is going on.
At this point, I'll have them take out their composition books (where we do all of our free writing)and I'll ask them, "how is the _ like the ___?" and I'll ask them to think of a few ways if possible.
After a minute or two, I'll ask for voluntary responses. There are always a few students who can make any sort of connection. Some are more humorous than others, but I try to honor all of the responses, even if they are a bit "out there."
At this point, I'll put the definition and example for "simile" on the overhead projector. Currently, I'm using this definition: A simile is the comparison between two unrelated nouns (person, place, thing, or idea) using "like" or "as."
Example: Their ideas ignited like fire. The wind swept the town like a broom.
I'll make sure that they understand the definitions, I'll explain the examples, and then I'll give them one more exercise to get them thinking about the relationship between two nouns. Here's a copy of the questions that I ask them:
- How is a pencil like a railroad?
- How is snow like an hourglass?
- How is a soaring eagle like a light bulb?
- How is a mirror like a book?
- How are wildflowers like stars?
- How is moonlight like jewelry?
- How is a teddy bear like a cookie?
- How is a bird like a heart?
- How is spring like death?
I group them with a partner and I give them some time to work together to come up with how the two nouns are alike. Afterwards, we share examples and ideas. The students always seem to enjoy it and after we are done, they all seem to understand how similes work.