Teaching Similes & Metaphors in Middle School Special Education

Teachers can guide students in looking for examples of figurative language.
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Any lesson on figurative language terms will usually include teaching similes and metaphors. Most students need examples from literature to help them understand the concept, but special education students might need more than just a quick lesson to make sure they fully understand the concepts. Teachers can help these students by incorporating some hands-on activities to teach these concepts.

1 Using Manipulatives

Use sentence strips to help students make connections when using figurative language.
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Manipulatives can show students how similes and metaphors look in writing. Have students copy phrases from literary examples of similes and metaphors onto long sentence strips, giving each student a different phrase. They can then cut the strip apart, separating the two parts of the comparison. Let the students trade strips and see if they can put the appropriate comparisons back together. The teacher needs to guide the activity by talking about the items having something in common. If the students combine incorrect strips, talk about the lack of similarity in the items. Sometimes the students’ comparisons will surpass the originals with their uniqueness!

2 Adding Movement

Another variation of the sentence strip activity adds movement. Have the students get up and move together to display their simile and metaphor examples to the class. Or as an alternative, take the original phrases and have the students act them out while the rest of the class tries to guess the phrase. Incorporating any sort of movement will help kinesthetic learners remember the lesson.

3 Music Lyrics

Another popular method for teaching figurative language involves song lyrics. A teacher can select a song and type the lyrics out on paper so the students can follow along as the song is played in class. The students can raise their hands when they think they’ve spotted an example of figurative language. The teacher should stop the music and let the class comment on the example. Using different color markers to underline the examples will also help show the difference in similes and metaphors while reinforcing the use of the devices in writing. Students could also select their favorite songs; however, the teacher needs to discuss choosing school appropriate lyrics ahead of time with the students.

4 Daily Examples

Short daily starter activities help reinforce the concepts.
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For any student, particularly special ed students, constant repetition is the key to a deeper understanding of the concept. A daily starter activity using figurative language will help reinforce the idea. One example might be as simple as having the students write down all the things they think of when they see a certain item, like a bird. Or show the students a simple picture and see if they can compare an object in the picture to something not shown in the picture. These short, daily activities will help to cement the concept of figurative language and should be used during the initial unit of instruction and continued sporadically throughout the year as reinforcement.

5 Computer Games

Computer games should be used only as a filler activity.
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A quick search of the Internet will also show the wide variety of computer games available to help reinforce the idea of similes and metaphors. These should be used only as a filler activity or for those who finish early and need something else to do. The best way to teach figurative language is to have the students actively involved in the lesson, whether through manipulating words, moving around the room, or reading and discussing language examples, leading to the deeper understanding needed to retain the concept.

Retired after 33 years in education, Diana Pierce has worked as a language arts teacher as well as a teacher librarian. For more than 10 years, she has written book reviews for “School Library Journal.” Pierce received her Bachelor of Science in education from the University of Texas at Austin.