How to Teach Analogies

With a little practice, students will quickly improve their understanding of analogies.
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Analogies are an important part of language, and they occurs frequently in everyday speech. Understanding analogies not only improves students' English skills, it can help them develop logical reasoning skills. Explaining how analogies work is not always easy at first, especially for younger students who aren't used to thinking critically about language. With a little practice, however, students will be able to master the structure of the analogy and apply this knowledge to new material.

Begin by using examples of analogies in everyday speech. Your students use and hear analogies all the time; they just don't know that this type of speech has a name. Point out expressions such as, "As honest as the day is long," and ask students if they can think of any others.

Explain that these expressions are a type of analogy, and that an analogy is a relationship between two sets of ideas that may be otherwise unrelated.

Write out an analogy in sentence form and diagram the same analogy. For instance, you might write "Writing about music is like dancing about architecture. Then, diagram the analogy as "Writing:music::dancing:architecture." Explain to the students that the colon stands for "is to" and the double colon for "as." Or, more simply, that the double colon indicates that the relationship between the two pairs of words is the same.

Work through another few examples, leading your students through the process. Guide students through the structure of an analogy, eliciting their responses to see whether they're grasping it.

Provide your students with a short assignment to work on singly or in groups. Create a series of analogies with the fourth term blank and ask students to provide it. For simplicity's sake, you may wish to make these questions multiple-choice.

  • Start with very easy, basic analogies, always emphasizing relationships and parts of speech.
  • Also, you may want to offer multiple choices at first, analyzing why the answer is a perfect match and the other choices are not.

Dr James Holloway has been writing about games, geek culture and whisky since 1995. A former editor of "Archaeological Review from Cambridge," he has also written for Fortean Times, Fantasy Flight Games and The Unspeakable Oath. A graduate of Cambridge University, Holloway runs the blog Gonzo History Gaming.